Market bombs kill 79 in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi frustration with the slow start of Baghdad’s long-promised security plan mounted Monday after a series of explosions tore through two downtown markets, killing at least 79 people and wounding 160 others in the latest act of carnage to strike the commercial center of the capital.
The successive midday blasts struck Baghdad’s historic Shorja market just as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was addressing reporters on television to mark the Islamic calendar anniversary of the attack last year on the holy Shiite al-Askariya shrine in Samarra.
“We call on Iraqis to unite,” he said, as the second and biggest of the explosions reverberated across the city. Al-Maliki barely flinched. “And to cooperate with the Iraqi security forces,” he continued.
In his address, al-Maliki promised that Baghdad’s security plan would go into effect later this week, compounding confusion over whether the plan has actually started. U.S. officials said last week that some aspects of the plan had already begun, but al-Maliki has yet to announce what he has called “the zero hour” for the plan’s implementation.
As a thick funnel of black smoke spiraled into the Baghdad sky and the sirens of ambulances wailed across the city, Iraqis expressed fury that there is still no tangible evidence of the promised plan, which is to see the deployment of an additional 17,500 U.S. troops in Baghdad along with additional Iraqi soldiers.
“The only sign I can see of this security plan is that there are more explosions, and more troops hurrying around, but security? I’m sorry, no,” said Jabar al-Hashemi, 28, a porter in the Shorja market.
He had rushed to help the wounded after the first of two car bombings hit the market, but fled when panicked rumors spread that a second bomb was in the vicinity.
“Who else is responsible if not the government?” he said. “We don’t know who detonated the bomb so we can only blame the government for not protecting us. They can’t even control the center of Baghdad, so why are they there if they can’t protect us?”
Police said three bombs exploded in the city center, starting with a small one detonated by a man wearing a suicide vest in the Bab al-Sherji market district shortly before noon; nine people died as a result.
Twenty minutes later, a massive car bomb exploded in the densely packed Shorja market, followed within 10 minutes by a second car bomb about 100 yards away.
The blasts ignited a warehouse, demolished dozens of street vendors’ stores and flipped cars parked in a four-story parking garage onto the street below. A police spokesman, Gen. Abdul Karim al-Kinani, said 70 bodies were taken from the site of the bombing to the morgue, and many others were reported dead on arrival by city hospitals.
Bombings that target crowded open-air markets, apparently aimed at maximizing civilian casualties, have become increasingly common in recent weeks. The markets are located in poorer neighborhoods populated mostly by Shiites, but they attract customers from most communities within the city, making it difficult to determine if the attacks are purely aimed at Shiites or more broadly at sowing fear and eroding confidence in the government.
Iraqis observed grimly that the bombers have been more successful in stepping up their attacks than the government has been in stopping them.
“There is no government. This is a crowded place full of people and there was no security there to protect us,” said Haider Hameed, 31, a cloth merchant in the Shorja market who joined a panicked exodus of merchants and shoppers after the first bomb exploded.
“The terrorists have made every effort to ensure the government plan will fail, while the government is doing nothing. It’s not acceptable to say this plan will happen in a few days or in a week because people are dying every day.”
The series of bombings roughly coincided with a 15-minute period of mourning called by al-Maliki to mark the anniversary of the bombing of the Samarra shrine, widely regarded as a turning point in the nearly four-year-old war.
The Feb. 22, 2006, attack unleashed a firestorm of Shiite rage. Marking the occasion, revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a statement urging Shiites not to blame Sunnis for the destruction of the shrine.
“They are innocent,” he said. “It’s the fault of the taqfiris (Sunni extremists) who are trying to wage a total sectarian war against the Iraqi people.”