A car bomb exploded near a park popular with young soccer players, killing at least 18 boys in a city west of Baghdad known as a center of the Sunni insurgency, police and Iraqi state television said Tuesday.
But the reports were complicated by a separate announcement by the U.S. military that 30 civilians and one Iraqi soldier were injured in a "controlled detonation" of explosives southeast of the same city, Ramadi. No deaths occurred, the military said.
It was not immediately clear if there were two separate blasts or whether there were disputes over the casualty toll from the same explosion.
However, the BBC reports that the chief American military spokesman in Iraq, Lt Colonel Christopher Garver, later said he thought there had been "two separate incidents" in Ramadi.
The blast outside the park occurred in central Ramadi, a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency, near an area popular for soccer. The victims were boys aged 10 to 15, police said in the city, about 70 miles west of Baghdad.
The bomb-rigged car blew apart in the afternoon while the boys were playing, police said.
It was not immediately known if the children were the intended targets, but young people are often caught in Iraq's daily bloodshed. On Sunday, more than 40 people — mostly college students — were killed in a bombing outside a mostly Shiite college in Baghdad.
Southwest of the capital, a roadside bomb blast killed three U.S. soldiers Tuesday, the military said.
The soldiers, assigned to a unit based in Baghdad, were killed by an improvised explosive device, or IED, a makeshift mine that is the deadliest killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The troops' names were not immediately released pending notification of relatives.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi forces staged raids in Baghdad's main Shiite militant stronghold Tuesday as part of politically sensitive forays into areas loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Troops have held back on broad sweeps through the teeming Sadr City slums since a major security operation began earlier this month targeting militant factions and sectarian death squads that have ruled Baghdad's streets.
Al-Sadr withdrew his powerful Mahdi Army militia from checkpoints and bases under intense government pressure to let the neighbor-by-neighbor security sweeps move ahead. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others have opposed extensive U.S.-led patrols through Sadr City, fearing a violent backlash could derail the security effort.
The pre-dawn raids appeared to highlight a strategy of pinpoint strikes in Sadr City rather than the flood of soldiers sent into some Sunni districts.
At least 16 people were arrested after U.S.-Iraqi commandos — using concussion grenades — stormed six homes, police said.
The U.S. military said the raids targeted "the leadership of several rogue" Mahdi Army cells that "direct and perpetrate sectarian murder" — an apparent reference to Shiite gangs accused of carrying out execution-style slayings and torture on Sunni rivals.
In other developments:
The U.S. military statement about the operations in Sadr City said the raids targeted "the leadership of several rogue" Mahdi Army cells that "direct and perpetrate sectarian murder" — an apparent reference to Shiite gangs accused of carrying out execution-style slayings and torture on Sunni rivals.
"My sons and wife were very terrified," complained Muhand Mihbas, 30, who said his brother and six cousins were taken in the sweeps. "Does the security plan mean arresting innocent people and scaring civilians at night?"
At a news conference, Odierno, the Pentagon's No. 2 commander in Iraq, declined to comment on whether there were special tactics for Sadr City. "We will go after anyone who we feel is working against the government of Iraq," he said.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told Al-Arabiya television that forces "will increase our operations in the coming days," but noted that the security crackdown in the capital should continue until at least October.
Added Odierno: "We will keep at this until the people feel safe in their neighborhoods."