A car bomb which exploded in a market in southern Iraq has left 28 people dead and 35 wounded, according to officials there.

The blast took place in al-Bathaa district, which is situated around 30km west of the city of Nasiriyah.

Local officials say they fear the death toll could rise further in the coming hours.

‘Children and women are among the dead,’ according to a local official. ‘We are now transporting the casualties to the General Hospital in Nasiriyah.’

Sectarian bloodshed has fallen sharply across Iraq since its peak in 2006/07, and the Shia south has tended to be one of the quietest areas.

But analysts say violence is likely to rise ahead of parliamentary elections next January.

The withdrawal from Iraqi city centres by US combat troops at the end of the month is another potential trigger point for an increase in attacks, Iraqi officials say.