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Three car bombs kill dozens in southern Iraq city

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  • NEW: All vehicles banned in city of Amara through Thursday, provincial governor says
  • Death toll continues to rise as Interior Ministry reports 151 wounded
  • State television reports that many of the casualties are women, children
  • Amara has been scene of fighting between rival Shiite factions vying for power
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- All vehicles were banned from the largely Shiite city of Amara Wednesday after three car bombs ripped through a market district, killing at least 27 people and wounded 151, officials said.

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Iraqis gather at the site of a car bomb in the city of Amara on Wednesday.

The blasts detonated in close succession in a commercial area in the central section of Amara, the provincial capital of Maysan province and a city that has been the scene of fighting between rival Shiite factions.

Baghdad was also hit by violence on Wednesday. A car bomb there killed five Iraqi civilians and wounded 15 others, an Interior Ministry official told CNN. The incident occurred in a Christian section of the largely Shiite New Baghdad district.

Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, head of the Interior Ministry's National Command Center, confirmed the casualty figures in the Amara bombing.

He and a committee were headed to Amara to investigate the incident. He said the ministry fired the city's police chief in the aftermath of the attack.

Maysan Gov. Adil Muhawdar Radhi announced the vehicle ban, which he said will be in place through Thursday. He said additional security measures have been put in place in the city.

The first bomb, in a car parked in a commercial area, detonated about 9:30 a.m. As onlookers gathered, the second one exploded in a nearby garage a few minutes later. It was followed by a third bomb in the garage a few minutes after that.

Ambulances and police raced to the scene. News footage showed burning vehicles and black smoke, and the clothing of victims scattered beside pools of blood. Iraqi state television showed hospitals packed with people.

Al-Forat, an Iraqi TV station affiliated with the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq political movement, reported that most of the casualties were women and children.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in a statement, denounced the attack.

"The targeting of unarmed civilians today in the markets of Amara town by car bombs -- that is another ring in the chain of conspiracy against the Iraqi people that is aiming to destabilize the security and stability in this province," which he said endured cruelty under the Saddam Hussein regime.

Maysan, which borders Iran, has been under Iraqi security control much of this year after control was transferred from the British military.

It was not immediately known who was responsible for the blasts, but the violence is a reminder of the intense fighting between the Mehdi Army -- the militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- and the Badr Brigade, the militia of the SICI, which condemned the bombings and blamed "Saddamists and Takfiris."

The two movements are bitter rivals and have been in the middle of local power struggles in Iraq's southern provinces and other Shiite areas. Video Watch how Shiite groups have been vying for power »

Britain, which has been in command of the south since the Iraqi war began, has been working to withdraw its troops from the region, which, despite this latest violence, has always been more stable than Baghdad and other outlying regions.

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Britain's Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the British military will transfer security control of the southern province of Basra to Iraqi forces on Sunday.

Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraq's government spokesman, confirmed the date and said the Maysan attacks will not affect the handover. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

All About Iraq WarMuqtada al-SadrSupreme Islamic Council of Iraq

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