U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned that escalating violence in Iraq may have an adverse impact on the world body's decision to resume work in the country.
Mr. Annan made the remark Wednesday, after a series of suicide car bombings in and near the southern Iraqi city of Basra killed at least 68 people -- many of them school children.
He told reporters (in New York) the attacks are yet another sign that extreme caution is needed in any decision to return UN staff to Iraq.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombings in Basra and the nearby town of Zubayr, but local officials say the blasts have the markings of al-Qaida terrorists.
Also on Wednesday, U.S. marines and insurgents exchanged gunfire for several hours in the volatile city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. The U.S. military said insurgents violated a cease-fire, attacking positions held by American Marines. The military says nine insurgents were killed.
In a separate development, the Danish foreign ministry says a Danish businessman who was kidnapped last week in Iraq has been found dead.
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reaffirmed his commitment to keep Italian troops in Iraq.
Spain, the Dominican Republic and Honduras have all said they will pull their troops out of Iraq soon.