At least 70 people were injured in the blast, including a newborn.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A suicide car bomb exploded next to U.S. troops handing out candy and toys, killing 18 children and teenagers Wednesday. Parents heard the shattering explosion and raced out to the discover the worst -- children's mangled, bloodied bodies strewn on the street.
Up to 27 people were killed by the blast in the Shiite Muslim neighborhood, including an American soldier. At least 70 people were injured, a newborn and three U.S. soldiers among them.
Children's slippers lay piled near the blast crater not far from a crumbled child's bicycle as blood pooled in the street.
Twelve of the dead were 13 or younger and six were between 14 and 17, said police Lt. Mohammed Jassim Jabr. Among the wounded was 4-day-old Miriam Jabber, cut slightly by flying glass and debris.
"There were some American troops blocking the highway when a U.S. humvee came near a gathering of children," said Karim Shukir, 42. The troops began handing out candy and smiley-face key chains.
"Suddenly, a speeding car bomb ... struck both the humvee and the children," Shukir said.
The slaughter of so many Shiite children is likely to raise tensions further between the majority Shiites -- who dominate the government -- and the minority Sunni Arabs, the foundation of the insurgency.
In Washington, the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned that both foreign terrorists and Iraqi insurgents linked to Saddam Hussein's Baath party were trying to foment civil war.
"The foreign terrorists ... see the Iraqi people, including Iraqi children, as cannon fodder to be sacrificed in the pursuit of an extremist agenda of conflict between civilizations," Khalilzad told reporters. "Hard-line Baathists want a civil war as a vehicle to restore their dictatorship, and if they cannot win power, to take Iraq down with them."
At Kindi hospital, where many victims were taken, a distraught mother swathed in black sat cross-legged outside the operating room. "May God curse the mujahedeen and their leader," she cried, referring to the insurgents.
"The car bomber made a deliberate decision to attack one of our vehicles as the soldiers were engaged in a peaceful operation with Iraqi citizens," said Maj. Russ Goemaere, a Task Force Baghdad spokesman.
After the bombing, charred remains of an engine block wrapped in barbed wire sat on the road. U.S. and Iraqi troops broadcast messages by loudspeakers in Arabic, warning civilians not to approach military vehicles.
In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan strongly condemned the bombing, saying it showed insurgents "have no regard for innocent, human life whether it's men, women or children."
At least 1,759 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003.