BAGHDAD, May 28: A suicide car bomber struck a busy Baghdad commercial district on Monday, killing at least 21 people, setting cars on fire and damaging a nearby shrine, police and hospital officials said.

The blast went off at 2pm in the Sinak market area on the east side of the Tigris River, just as US and Iranian diplomats were wrapping up a historic meeting aimed at ending the violence wracking the country.

Insurgents carried out several mortar and car bombing attacks throughout the capital on Monday and even waged a lengthy gun battle with police in broad daylight. The wave of violence, which killed 36 people across Baghdad, came despite a nearly 15-week-old US-led security crackdown in the city.

Another 33 bullet-riddled bodies were found handcuffed, blindfolded and showing signs of torture in different parts of Baghdad, the apparent victims of ongoing sectarian violence.

The deadliest attack on Monday was the car bombing in the Sinak district, near the Abdul Qadir al-Gailani mosque.

AP Television News footage showed dozens of astonished people wandering among the scorched cars and debris that littered the scene. Firefighters in yellow helmets struggled to extinguish the fire as ambulances rushed to evacuate the wounded.

Ghaith Karim, a 38-year old cloth merchant, was heading to a nearby bus station when he heard the blast. “It was tremendous. I felt the ground was shaking,” he said.

“When I reached the scene, I found legs, charred pieces of bodies and pools of blood. Casualties were being evacuated by civilian cars.”

The television footage showed damage to the mosque’s minaret, while the in-charge of the shrine, Mahmoud al-Issawi, said the blast damaged the building’s dome as well. “The enemies of Iraq are the only ones who benefit from this bombing. These enemies have targeted our homeland, religion and our brotherhood,” al-Issawi told Iraqiya TV.

The blast also wounded 66, including three traffic policemen.—AP

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