Saturday, February 03, 2007

Truck Bomb Levels Baghdad Market, Killing at Least 130

A man was taken to a hospital Saturday after he was wounded in the bombing
of a popular Baghdad market.

Published: February 4, 2007
The New York Times

BAGHDAD, Feb. 3 — A mammoth truck bomb destroyed a popular central Baghdad market and ripped through scores of shops and apartments late Saturday afternoon, killing at least 130 people and wounding more than 300 in the worst of a series of horrific attacks against Shiites in recent weeks.

The attack appeared to be the work of a suicide bomber who detonated about 2,000 pounds of explosives about 5 p.m. in the bustling Sadiriya market, in a Shiite enclave of Baghdad, as shoppers finished buying food for dinner and men sipped coffee at the popular cafes nearby, the police and wire services reported. It was one of the deadliest attacks to hit the capital since the United States invasion almost four years ago.

The attack, the fourth huge bomb to strike a densely populated Shiite area since Jan. 16, seemed sure to inflame Shiite political and militia leaders just as more than 20,000 American troops begin to arrive in an attempt to stop the sectarian bloodletting that threatens to tear Iraq apart. A prime objective of the American military will be to prevent the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and security forces from directing new military operations disproportionately at Sunni areas.

But the chaotic scene after the blast suggested how much pressure Shiite political leaders will face to avenge the recent attacks: as onlookers cursed the Iraqi government for not protecting them from Sunni militants, Shiite militiamen descended on the scene and angrily questioned people who they believed did not belong in the neighborhood. Many Shiites have come to view the militias — which have been accused of much of the sectarian violence — as their best protection against Sunni insurgents.

Hours after the bombing, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, released a statement denouncing the attack as the work of “Saddamists” and Sunni insurgents.

The bomber struck close to the middle of the narrow market, which stretches for about an eighth of a mile, killing everyone nearby and dozens more in the apartment buildings and coffeehouses that line the market, witnesses said.

“Look at all these buildings,” shouted Qadir Ali Ismael, a 41-year-old vegetable seller who escaped the blast, as he angrily waved at the buildings. “There were families living in these apartments and they didn’t find anyone alive in there. All of those people were killed!”

Two buildings were flattened and 10 more seriously damaged. The attack left a crater 15 feet long, 10 feet wide and five feet deep. Shock waves seriously damaged some buildings a block away.

Police rushed frantically to rescue wounded people trapped inside buildings only to find that they could not break through damaged doors to get inside. By the time they did, some of the wounded had bled to death, said Abu Ali, who runs a health clinic a few blocks from the market.

“The doors wouldn’t open,” he said. “The rescuers are getting there too late.” He said he alone treated more than 40 people, mostly children and women, and quickly ran out of first aid supplies at his clinic.

As the loudspeaker of a nearby Shiite mosque called for people to donate blood, American Humvees took up positions on a street that leads to a nearby Sunni neighborhood.

Anger spread throughout the crowd that the attack was the work of Sunni insurgents. One elderly man, crying and shouting, was surrounded by younger men.

“They tried to kill us because we are Shia,” the older man said. “Why are there no bombs in Adhamiya,” he said, referring to a large Sunni district of Baghdad. “Maliki and the Americans are the sons of dogs.”

Grieving relatives rushed to hospitals. At the Imam Ali Hospital in Sadr City, the refrigerated portion of the morgue quickly filled and bodies were piled up next to it. People tried to donate blood but were told to go to a blood bank that is in a dangerous area of Baghdad, he said.

One man at the hospital, a Shiite who refused to give his name, said, “These people suffered under Saddam Hussein, and now they are still suffering.”

The blast was the largest attack since November, when a series of bombs killed about 200 people in Sadr City. It also appeared to be the deadliest single bomb blast since the invasion, eclipsing even the September 2005 attack in a Shiite area of Baghdad in which a bomber killed more than 120 people seeking work as day laborers.

Earlier on Saturday, Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, repeated his call for Muslims to “stand together and repel division and reject sectarian rifts,” and he denounced those who he said were “deepening the sectarian disputes between the Muslims.”

The calamity in the capital came after a bloody day throughout the rest of Iraq that included a coordinated volley of seven car bombs in Kirkuk, apparently the latest strike by insurgents seeking to thwart Kurdish efforts to fully annex the disputed oil-rich city.

The first Kirkuk suicide attacker detonated his bomb-laden Toyota near the offices of the powerful Kurdistan Democratic Party at about 10:30 a.m., killing one civilian and wounding 17 others while damaging 10 nearby houses, according to Burhan Habib Tayeb, a senior police officer in Kirkuk. Other reports placed the casualty toll at two dead and 30 wounded.

The next four car bombs were detonated about every 10 minutes, beginning at 11 a.m. One wounded two students at a school for girls and another wounded four people at a gas station. Two more bombs detonated later in the day, wounding two civilians, said a Kirkuk police captain, Emad Jasim.

Gunmen fatally struck Iraqi forces twice on Saturday morning in Samarra, a large city north of Baghdad where the destruction of a Shiite shrine last February set off a wave of sectarian violence. Gunmen struck a police checkpoint north of the city at about 7:30 a.m., killing six policemen and wounding six more, a police official in Samarra said. Four Iraqi soldiers were later killed just south of the city after gunmen attacked their checkpoint. Three other soldiers were wounded, and three of the gunmen were killed, the police official said.

The Iraqi police also battled insurgents in a neighborhood of western Mosul on Saturday, while a large bomb wounded three policemen in another part of western Mosul, a police official said. Several insurgents were killed in the gun battle, but no policemen died, he said.

Iraqi forces imposed a curfew in Kirkuk, Mosul and Samarra following the violence.

Two American soldiers assigned to units in the insurgent-dominated Anbar Province in western Iraq died on Friday from “wounds sustained due to enemy action,” the U.S. military announced. The names and specific units were not released.

A soldier from the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) died from an apparent heart attack after physical training on Friday, the military reported. Another soldier from the same command also died on Jan. 30 from “noncombat-related causes,” the military said.