BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Suicide bombers killed 29 people in Baghdad on Sunday, after a meeting of officials of world powers, Iraq and neighbouring states agreed it was vital to all to stop sectarian violence spreading across the region.
A car bomber attacked a lorry carrying Shi’ite pilgrims in central Baghdad, killing 19 people and wounding 25, police said.
The pilgrims had been returning from the holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, where millions gathered over the weekend for a major Shi’ite ritual despite attacks by suspected Sunni Arab insurgents that have killed scores.
A suicide bomber blew himself up on a minibus, killing 10 people and wounding eight, in northeastern Baghdad near the Shi’ite militia stronghold Sadr City, police said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged regional and world powers at a conference in Baghdad on Saturday to do all they could to help end sectarian violence which threatens to plunge Iraq into all-out civil war and spread over the region.
Saturday’s meeting was a rare opportunity for Washington and its adversaries Tehran and Damascus to sit together at the same table. Washington accuses Syria and Shi’ite, non-Arab Iran of supporting militants in Iraq, a charge they deny.
Iran said on Sunday it backed any efforts to quell violence in Iraq and described the regional meeting as a “good step”.
“We support any efforts that will bring Iraq out of its current problems ... and help the Iraqi security. Iran will be the first supporter of this plan,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.
Syrian state-controlled newspapers said Damascus supported a “political solution” to end violence in Iraq.
U.S. President George W. Bush said he wanted action because “words are easy to say in politics and international diplomacy”.
If Iran and Syria really wanted to stabilise Iraq, Bush said at a news conference with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Bogota, “there are things for them to do, such as cutting off weapons flows and/or the flow of suicide bombers into Iraq”.
While Bush on Saturday ordered 4,400 more U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq on top of a force build-up he has already authorised, Iran and Syria called for a withdrawal of U.S. forces, saying they fuelled violence.
The United States has 140,000 troops in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi troops have launched a security crackdown in Baghdad, seen as the last chance to stop the oil-rich nation tearing itself apart.
After the Baghdad talks among senior officials on Saturday, the United States said Turkey had offered to host a planned follow-up ministerial-level conference in April and that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would attend.
Sectarian violence between Sunnis and majority Shi’ite Muslims has escalated since the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine a year ago. Since the U.S invasion in 2003 tens of thousands have been killed and some 2 million driven abroad.
Saturday’s conference brought together officials from Iraq’s neighbours, the permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and Arab countries.
U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said after the conference he had talked directly to Iranian delegates as well as in a group setting but the top Iranian official said he had not had one-to-one talks with U.S. officials.
Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, said the talks had been constructive.
The meeting took place amid mounting tension between the United States and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Additional reporting by Aseel Kami and Ibon Villelabeitia in Baghdad, Edmund Blair in Tehran and Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Damascus