BAGHDAD – Bombs ripped through three mainly Shiite districts in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least 158 people and wounding scores more, police said, in the worst wave of carnage since President Bush announced three months ago he would deploy additional troops to pacify the capital.
The Associated Press reported the bombings toll at 183 deaths.
In the gravest attack, a car bomb killed at least 118 people across from the busy al-Sadriyah market, a shopping area that the U.S. military closed to traffic and fortified with blast walls after a truck bomb killed 135 people in February, the deadliest explosion since the war began in 2003.
The attacks followed brazen bombings that demonstrated insurgents’ ability to work around the U.S. and Iraqi security plan for Baghdad and renewed fears of reprisal killings by Shiites. Last Thursday, a truck bomb collapsed a beloved bridge over the Tigris River and a suicide bomber penetrated the fortress-like Green Zone, blowing himself up inside the parliament cafeteria and killing one lawmaker.
“After two months of the security plan in the hot areas of the city, the attacks have moved to the cold, quiet areas to make them hot, while the hot areas burn,” said Nassar al-Robae, a lawmaker who heads the parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. “These target everything that has life in Iraq: universities, schools, neighborhood centers, markets, gas stations and bus stations. But the occupation forces and the government stand still, doing nothing, and let the terrorists play.”
Across Iraq, at least 10 other people were killed in bombings and shootings, and 58 bullet-riddled corpses were found, police and news services reported, bringing the day’s death toll to nearly 230.
In Washington, Adm. William Fallon, the new chief of the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, gave a more pessimistic assessment of the situation in Baghdad than other senior officers have recently. “I believe that the things that I see on a daily basis give me some cause for optimism, but I’ll tell you that there’s hardly a week that goes by – certainly almost a day that doesn’t go by – without some major event that also causes us to lose some ground,” Fallon told the House Armed Services Committee.
While execution-style killings have dropped under the security crackdown, bombings have stayed steady. Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, defended the plan Wednesday, saying it was too soon to assess its results because only 60 percent of the 28,000 additional troops deployed by Bush are in place.
The al-Sadriyah bomb devastated a central Baghdad intersection filled with buses and taxis near a famed Sunni shrine. It left a crater six feet deep, engulfed minibuses and cars in flames and shattered the windows of nearby buildings.
Sabri Hassan Ali, 36, was in front of his soft drinks shop when the bomb exploded about 10 yards away. He saw it blow off the head of a man nearby.
“How can I stand living a normal life and seeing a person who just lost his head in front of me?” Ali said, his voice filled with outrage.
As he spoke, another man ran by, screaming, “Curse Islam! What kind of Muslims kill their own brothers?”
In a statement, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, called on Iraqis to denounce the “barbarian, savage attacks,” which he blamed on extremist conservative Muslims. He ordered the arrest of the Iraqi army commander in charge of the al-Sadriyah area and an investigation into the area’s security measures.
One U.S. soldier died of non-combat injuries in Baghdad on Tuesday and a Marine in Anbar province died Monday in a “non-hostile incident during combat,” the military said.