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A suicide bomber in a minivan lured day laborers to his vehicle with promises of a job Sunday morning then blew it up, killing 22 people and wounding 44 in the mainly Shiite southern city of Hillah, police said.
Attacks by suspected insurgents in other areas of Iraq killed 27 people and wounded 50, raising the country's death toll to 49 by midday Sunday.
In the capital, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem was to begin a landmark visit, officials said. He would be the highest ranking Syrian official to visit since US-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Syria and Iraq broke diplomatic relations in 1982, although trade ties have been restored.
The Bush administration is under growing pressure to ask adversaries such as Iran and Syria for help in trying to avoid the collapse of an increasingly violent Iraq.
Negotiating with the two countries would entail a major policy shift by US President George W. Bush, whose reluctance to talk to them - and US adversaries in general - has come under increasing criticism.
A bipartisan US panel looking for a way out of Iraq was through ready to recommend increased engagement with Iran and Syria as part of a broader effort for more international involvement in the conflict.
The minivan approached the men in central Hillah, a mostly Shiite city 95 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad, and exploded as they gathered around it, said police Capt. Muthanna Khalid Ali.
Unemployment is high across Iraq, and men often struggle to feed their families by working jobs such as the construction work the Hillah residents were seeking. Sunday is a working day in mostly Muslim Iraq.
"The sudden explosion shook the whole area and shattered the windows of a store I was standing outside of nearby," said Muhsin Hadi Alwan, 33, one of the wounded day laborers. "The ground was covered with the remains of people and blood, and survivors ran in all directions."
"How will I feed the six members of my family when I return home without work and without money?" Alwan said.
Another survivor, Mohammed Abbas Kadhim, 30, said: "I was thrown a few meters (yards) by the blast and I couldn't see or hear for a few minutes as I was lying on the ground. People were racing everywhere looking for their missing sons, brothers, friends - all of them shouting `God is great."'
Crying and screaming Shiite women searched the scene for their sons. Some blamed Sunni Arab insurgents for the attack. Others said Hillah's police don't provide poor people such as day laborers with adequate security.
Firefighters wearing yellow rubber boots raced to the site to put out the burning vehicle. Some stepped over mud mixed with blood and large chunks of crumpled concrete as they moved toward the remains of the van, which was reduced to a blackened hulk of twisted metal.
The blast shattered windows and ripped gaping holes in concrete stalls and storefronts nearby. Some business owners were using brooms to sweep away debris from the blast. Others stood nearby, surveying the damage as if in a daze.
Soldiers also gathered at the site, in part to guard the heavily damaged shops and stalls from scavengers. Some of the stalls were serving traditional breakfasts of boiled eggs and tea to the laborers when the explosion occurred.
Ambulances carrying the dead and wounded raced to nearby Hillah Hospital, which has its own morgue. As medics carried stretchers into the building, local residents lined up outside offering to donate blood.
Dr. Mohammed Dhiya, the hospital's manager, said all the city's doctors had been called to work and that operations were under way on severely wounded victims. As a large crowd of residents gathered at the hospital, he urged them to remain outside unless they were donating blood.
Hillah has been the site of many deadly bomb attacks.
In August, an explosives-rigged bicycle blew up near an army recruiting center in the city, killing at least 12 people. The attacker, who was posing as an army applicant, left the bike at the center as volunteers gathered outside.
In May, a car packed with explosives blew up at a dealership in Hillah, killing at least 12 people and wounding 32.
One of the worst bomb attacks in Iraq during the war also occurred in Hillah, when a suicide car bomber killed 125 national guard and police recruits in February 2005.
Elsewhere in Iraq, 21 civilians, five policemen and a soldier were killed and 50 Iraqis were wounded in a series of attacks by suspected insurgents in the cities of Baghdad, Mosul and Baqouba, police said.
U.S. and Iraqi forces also killed 12 insurgents, detained 11, and freed eight Iraqi hostages while conducting raids in Baqouba and two villages near Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
In Sunday's worst attack by suspected insurgents outside Hillah, a roadside bomb and two car bombs exploded one after another near a bus station in southeastern Baghdad, killing eight civilians and wounding 43, police said.