Dozens killed in Iraq oil blast

Scene of oil pipeline blast, Iraq
The oil pipeline explosion caused a huge fire

At least 34 people have been killed and others injured by an explosion at a disused oil pipeline in southern Iraq.

A police spokesman said people had been siphoning fuel from the pipeline in an industrial zone south of Diwaniya, 130km (80 miles) south of Baghdad.

The explosion caused a massive fire, which police said was hampering the rescue effort.

In a separate development, police found more than 20 bodies at two sites in Baghdad. All the victims had been shot.

There are conflicting reports on the number of dead in the pipeline explosion. A unnamed police source quoted by Reuters news agency said 50 people had been killed.

Police and other security forces have cordoned off the site. Officials say the cause of the blast is still being investigated.

Iraq map

Witnesses told Reuters the explosion happened at about 11pm local time (1900 GMT) on Monday, when a large group of people were taking fuel from two pools.

Government officials said the pipeline, which used to carry petrol to the capital, had been out of operation since 2003.

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Baghdad says the practice of siphoning fuel from pipelines is apparently not uncommon in Iraq.

Diwaniya was the scene on Monday of fierce clashes between Iraqi troops and Shia militiamen.

At least 19 soldiers were killed and more than 40 people were wounded in Diwaniya. Officials said some 40 gunmen from the Mehdi Army had also died.

Security operation

After the bodies were found in Baghdad, police said the victims had been bound and shot, and some bore signs of torture. Their identities are not known.

Eleven of the bodies were found near a school in a south-western district of the capital. At least 10 other bodies were dumped behind a Shia mosque in the west of the city.

The deaths come at a time when US and Iraqi security forces are engaged in a new security operation aimed at reducing the level of violence in the city.

Also on Tuesday, insurgents killed two Shia militiamen in the city of Baquba north of Baghdad.

Iraqi police told the AFP news agency the militiamen were killed in an attack on the office of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr.

The US military in Iraq announced on Tuesday that two US soldiers died in Iraq - one in fighting in Anbar province and the second from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident.

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