Baghdad bombs kill 183

Suspected Sunni insurgents penetrated the Baghdad security net, hitting Shi'ite targets with four bomb attacks that killed 183 people.


It was the bloodiest day since the US troop increase in Iraq began nine weeks ago.

The most devastating blast yesterday struck the Sadriyah market as workers were leaving for the day, charring a lineup of minibuses that came to pick them up.

At least 127 people were killed and 148 wounded, including men who were rebuilding the market after a February 3 bombing left 137 dead.

Yesterday's car bombing appeared meticulously planned. It took place at a pedestrian entrance where tall concrete barriers had been erected after the earlier attack.

It was the only way out of the compound, and the construction workers were widely known to leave at about 4pm – the time of the bombing.

Al Qaida suspected

US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told The Associated Press that al-Qaeda in Iraq was suspected in the bombing.

"Initial indications based on intelligence sources show that it was linked to al-Qaeda," Caldwell said in a late-night telephone interview.

Echoing those remarks, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates called the bombings "horrifying" and accused al-Qaeda of being behind them.

The attacks appeared to be yet another attempt by Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda to force Shi'ite militiamen back onto the streets.

Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had ordered his Mahdi Army fighters to put away their weapons and go underground before the security crackdown began, leaving regions like those bombed yesterday highly vulnerable.

An outburst of violence from the Shi'ite militia would also ease pressure on the Sunni insurgents, creating a second front for US and Iraqi soldiers struggling to diminish violence in the capital and provide time for the Iraqi government to gather momentum for sectarian reconciliation.

US officials have reported a decrease in sectarian killings in Baghdad since the US-Iraqi security crackdown was launched on February 14.

But the past week has seen several spectacular attacks in the capital, including a suicide bombing inside parliament and a powerful blast that collapsed a landmark bridge across the Tigris River.

The number of bodies dumped in the streets of Baghdad also has risen significantly.

Brigadier General Qassim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi military spokesman, said: "We have not seen such a wave of attacks since the security plan began. These are terrorist challenges. Ninety-five per cent of those killed today were civilians."

‘Memories of Saddam’s regime’

Late yesterday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the arrest of the Iraqi army colonel who was in charge of security in the region around the Sadriyah market. The colonel's name was not given.

"Our Iraqi people are being subjected to a brutal attack that does not differentiate between an old man, a child or a woman," said a statement from al-Maliki's office.

"This targeting of civilian populations brings back to our minds the mass crimes and genocide committed by the Saddamist dictatorial regime."

The 127 deaths in the market bombing were recorded by Raad Muhsin, an official at the al-Kindi Hospital morgue where the victims were taken. A police official confirmed the toll.

Besides the market attack, bombs struck Shi'ite targets in the capital at a police checkpoint, near a hospital and in a small bus.

Nationwide the number of people killed or found dead was 233, which was second only to a total of 281 killed or found dead on November 23, 2006. Those figures are according to AP record-keeping, which began in May 2005.

<'Attempts to destroy any sense of security'

Caldwell said militants were "attempting to destroy any sense of security the people of Baghdad were beginning to feel with the security operation in Baghdad."

He called insurgents a "vicious cancer on the body of Iraq. You've got to keep fighting it. We're not going to give up."

Many of the most devastating bomb attacks in the country have come in the past several months, indicating insurgents have developed more sophisticated or powerful explosives.

About an hour before the market was hit, a suicide car bomber crashed into an Iraqi police checkpoint at an entrance to Sadr City, the capital's biggest Shi'ite Muslim neighbourhood and a stronghold for the Mahdi Army militia.

The explosion killed at least 41 people, including five Iraqi security officers, and wounded 76, police and hospital officials said.

A towering column of black smoke rose from a tangle of eight incinerated vehicles that were in a jam of cars stopped at the checkpoint. Bystanders scrambled over twisted metal to drag victims from the smoldering wreckage. Iraqi guards who survived the bombing staggered through the carnage, apparently stunned.

During the noon hour, a parked car exploded near a private hospital in Karradah, a predominantly Shi'ite district in the center of Baghdad.

At least 11 people died and 13 were wounded, police said. The blast damaged the Abdul-Majid hospital and other nearby buildings.

The fourth bombing exploded in a small bus in the central Rusafi area, killing four people and wounding six, police said.

In other violence, a suicide bomber struck a police patrol at nightfall in the Saydiyah neighbourhood, a mixed Sunni-Shi'ite district in southwest Baghdad.

Four died, including two policemen, and eight were wounded, five of them police, police officials said.

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