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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Car Bomb Kills 17 in Provincial Iraq

MAHMUDIYA, Iraq -- A car bomb killed up to 17 people and wounded two dozen in a town south of Baghdad on Sunday, the latest in a spate of attacks outside the Iraqi capital since a new security plan there took effect.

The mayor of Mahmudiya, Muaid al-Amiri, said the car bomb targeted industrial workshops and had killed 17 people and completely demolished a three-story building. Many smaller shops were leveled and a number of cars destroyed.

North of Baghdad, four U.S. soldiers were killed in an explosion near their vehicle on Saturday, the military said. The blast took place in Diyala province, another area where violence has spiked since the start of the security crackdown in Baghdad.

An official at Mahmudiya General Hospital, Yehya Najm, said the death toll in the bombing was 15, with 30 wounded. Several bodies were still buried in the rubble, he said.

"Three of us and a young boy were sitting in a store selling spare parts for cars when there was a huge explosion. Debris from the roof fell on me," said one wounded man, who gave his name as Sadeq, lying on a hospital bed.

The explosion in the town, 30 kilometers south of Baghdad left a crater about 1.5 meters deep.

The government said last week that it was extending the nearly two-month U.S.-Iraqi security offensive in Baghdad to other cities in its drive to halt the slide into sectarian civil war.

The insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces still rages. More than 3,270 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have also have been killed.

Heeding the call of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to hold an anti-American protest in Najaf on Monday, thousands of supporters of the firebrand cleric boarded buses and rode in cars to the holy southern city on Sunday, witnesses said.

Sadr, who the U.S. military says is believed to be in Iran, has urged Iraqis to demonstrate in Najaf on Monday, the fourth anniversary of when U.S. troops swept into central Baghdad in 2003. He has demanded that U.S. forces leave Iraq.

Witnesses in some southern towns said Iraqi police were trying to stop Sadr's supporters from getting to Najaf.

In a possible diplomatic embarrassment for Iraq, Iran refused to allow a plane carrying Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on a trip to Asia to cross its airspace overnight, a senior adviser to the Iraqi leader said Sunday.

"Suddenly the Iranian aviation authorities ordered the pilot to go back," said Sadiq al-Rikabi, accompanying Maliki on the trip to Japan and South Korea.

"We were obliged to fly to Dubai, where we stayed for more than three hours to file a new [flight] plan," he said by telephone from Bangkok, Thailand.

Rikabi said the reasons for Iran's actions were unclear.

Asked about the report, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a weekly news conference in Tehran: "Permission for Maliki's flight is a normal issue. All flights need permission." He gave no further details.

Iraq's U.S.-backed government has often had to tread a delicate path in trying to maintain good relations with both Iran, its neighbor to the east, and the United States.