BAGHDAD – A suicide car bomber killed 20 people Saturday in Baghdad’s Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, showering shrapnel over a joint U.S.-Iraqi military outpost in an ominous sign of violence returning to Iraq’s capital after a brief lull.
The blast ripped through an Iraqi army checkpoint at a southern entrance to the district, and six of the dead were soldiers, the U.S. military said in a statement. Smoldering debris was scattered for hundreds of yards.
A reporter traveling with U.S. troops nearby said bits of metal and glass flew as far as the joint security station 300 yards from the blast site. The partially shattered windshield of a car landed at the gates of the compound.
U.S. military officials at the station said 20 people were killed, and Iraqi police said nearly 50 were hurt.
The attack was especially ominous because it struck in the stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The young cleric had agreed to withhold his armed militia from the streets during the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.
Such attacks could encourage al-Sadr to send them back to protect Shiites if U.S. forces and the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cannot.
The blast came a week after U.S and Iraqi troops poured into Sadr City, facing no resistance in the former combat zones. The U.S. foray has tested the Shiites’ commitment to the security plan and to turning to U.S. troops and Iraqi forces for their protection.