A pickup truck loaded with artillery shells exploded yesterday near a hospital south of Baghdad, killing at least 15 people. The blast left a crater 10m wide, the Iraqi military said.
The US military yesterday announced the deaths of four US soldiers, killed a day earlier in an explosion near their vehicle in Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad.
The bombing in Mahmoudiyah involved a pickup truck parked next to the city General Hospital, an Iraqi army officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter.
Several people were wounded and the death toll was expected to rise, he said.
Other reports said the explosion was caused by a rocket attack.
The hospital was slightly damaged by flying debris and shrapnel, but shops and residential buildings bore more damage. Many of those wounded were in their homes at the time of the blast.
Also yesterday, Iran's state news agency reported that a spokesman for the country's foreign ministry had confirmed that Iran had refused to allow Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fly through Iranian airspace. But the spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said the row was only a technical issue.
"For all flights there is a need for authorization, for which formalities must have been done in advance," he was quoted as saying.
Members of the delegation traveling with al-Maliki said early yesterday that the plane was diverted to Dubai, where al-Maliki stayed in the airport for more than three hours while a new flight plan was filed.
Diyala Province, which lies northeast of Baghdad, has seen a spike in attacks on US and Iraqi forces since the start of a plan two months ago to pacify the capital.
US forces also captured a senior al-Qaeda leader and two others in a raid yesterday morning in Baghdad, the US military said.
The al-Qaeda figure was identified as "the gatekeeper to the al-Qaeda emir of Baghdad" and was linked to several car bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital, the military said in a statement, without naming the captive.
A suicide bomber attacked a police checkpoint near a market in southwest Baghdad, killing a policeman and four civilians and wounding 22, two police officials said.
Roadside bombs also killed two Iraqi policemen in separate attacks in the capital and Fallujah, 65km west of the capital, police said.
On Saturday, US warplanes blasted a militia team firing rocket-propelled grenades on the second day of heavy fighting in a major offensive to drive Shiite Mehdi Army militiamen out of Diwaniyah, a farm-belt city south of Baghdad.
Major General Oothman Farhood al-Ghanemi, commander of the Iraqi army's 8th Division, said the US-Iraqi operation to retake Diwaniyah took shape after a three-month crescendo of violence in which at least 58 people were killed or kidnapped.
Iraqi TV announced yesterday that the Iraqi military had ordered a 24-hour vehicle ban in Baghdad today, the fourth anniversary of the US capture of the capital.