Dozens Killed, More than 100 Wounded in Baghdad Blasts

A series of at least seven bombings ripped through the heart of mostly poor Shiite neighbourhoods in the capital of Iraq Tuesday, killing about 35 people and wounding more than 100, security officials said.

Five of the blasts took place in Shiite neighbourhoods: Shulaa, Chikook, Shurta al-Rabaa, Amel and Bayaa. Another attack occurred in the mixed Saydiya neighbourhood, authorities said. The seventh attack involved explosive devices planted in a building housing a popular restaurant in the Alawi commercial area near Haifa street in central Baghdad.

The morning attacks seemed aimed at inciting sectarian fighting by targeting the homes of Shiite civilians. The areas were reportedly strongholds of the Mehdi Army, the armed militia connected to the Sadrist Movement led by Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr. By attacking Shia areas, the bombers appear set on rekinding sectarian passions, as happened in 2006.

U.S. officials urged “all sides to avoid inflammatory rhetoric or actions and to avoid using these attacks to make political statements,” said Gary Grappo, chief of the U.S. Embassy’s political section. Grappo attributed Tuesday’s attacks to the inability of al-Qaeda in Iraq to disrupt the March 7 election and said it was trying to “reassert” itself as political parties negotiate the formation of the next government, which probably will take months. “When you look at the attacks and how they were done, they carry the fingerprints of [al-Qaeda in Iraq], which we all know has tried to spark sectarian violence,” Grappo said. “They’re going after targets that are defenseless… They mounted these bombing attacks in an effort to prove their continuing relevance or force here in country – very tragically by going after defenseless civilians.” (Washington Post)

Violence has been increasing in the Baghdad area following parliamentary elections that left a security vacuum as political parties jockey for power. Bombings on Sunday killed at least 30, and 24 people were brutally executed south of the city on Friday.

“The security forces have lost direction,” said Baha al-Araje, a member of Parliament. “They don’t know what will become of them. They are scared they will lose their positions if the government changes. What we need now is a kind of selflessness among all the blocs to quickly form the next government.” (New York Times)

In at least five of the attacks Tuesday morning, people rented out rooms or stores in or around residential apartment buildings, put explosive devices inside and detonated them in less than an hour, security officials said.

In the northwest neighbourhood of Chikook, where a large community of displaced Shiites fled during Iraq’s darkest days of civil war in 2006 and 2007, two people had rented out a restaurant and a small convenience store two weeks ago, security officials and residents said. They never opened the shops. Instead the convenience store was rigged and detonated just before 9 a.m., toppling the front and back of an apartment building. As emergency workers extracted the injured, the scraps of a life destroyed hung from the shattered building: a yellow blanket, a child’s clothes and one dresser drawer.

“Bring the ambulance,” one emergency responder said. They’d found another person inside. At least two people were killed. A soldier yelled out from his Humvee over a loudspeaker. “Citizens, please inform us of any new people in the neighbourhood,” he said, his voice booming over the ambulances, police vehicles and line of military Humvees. (Washington Post)

Mehedi Saleh, 50, stood outside what was once his home. Someone had rigged his neighbour’s car to rip through both buildings. Now it is a pile of destroyed bricks. No one inside had died. But surely another attack will come, people said. Security forces defused two other bombs packed in unmixed cement.

“Maybe when we die this will be over,” said Hussein Abd Muslim, 20. The shop where he fixed satellite dishes is gone. (Washington Post)

In central Baghdad, the same tactic was used to destroy an apartment building, a video game store where children gathered and a traditional cafe where men drink sweet tea and bitter coffee in the Shawaka district of the old city. A man rented the storefront next door on the neglected street and rigged it to explode about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens of others.

As cranes removed the rubble, hundreds of people gathered; parents wailed outside the video game store where their sons had been playing. A woman screamed for her son, “Where are you, Mohammed, where are you?” She slapped her face and sobbed. Her son had gone to play video games with his friends. “All this happened to you because I don’t have money to buy you a PlayStation,” she screamed. (Washington Post)

After an explosion at an apartment building in Shuala, in the city’s northwest, dozens of people came to the scene to help. In the chaos, men got on their knees and dug out collapsed bricks and chunks of cement to free anyone who might have been trapped. As American helicopters circled overhead, women shouted out the names of loved ones.

“I saw one woman being pulled out of the collapsed building and about five others who had been injured,” said Hussein al-Marsumi, 48, a labourer. “They were screaming and covered with blood and dust. They looked like they had been buried in their graves.” (New York Times)

On Tuesday, Qassim Atta, spokesman for Baghdad’s security network, said insurgents connected to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia were seeking to destabilize Iraq during its post-election confusion. In the past, Iraqi and American officials have said that the Sunni insurgent group had been all but routed. “We are in a state of war with what remains of al-Qaeda,” he said. (New York Times)

Survivors worried that the months ahead will only bring more blood as the politicians they voted for spend months negotiating the formation of the next government. Some warned it was only a matter of time before civilians would react to protect themselves.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has made no public statements about the spate of attacks, though he held a meeting with his top security officials on Sunday. Mr. Maliki’s political organization, the State of Law alliance, won 89 seats in last month’s Parliamentary election, while former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s secular Iraqiya coalition won 91 seats.

The groups have held competing talks with smaller parties over the past two weeks, each trying to win 163 of the 325 seats in Parliament needed to form a government. Although Mr. Maliki remains prime minister, his circle – like much of the rest of the country – appeared to be in disarray on Tuesday.

When asked about the bombings, Ali al-Dabbagh, Mr. Maliki’s chief spokesman, sought to distance the government from the attacks, even though the military officials responsible for securing the capital were appointed by Mr. Maliki and answer to him directly. “Ask the military and whoever is responsible for the security situation,” said Mr. Dabbagh during a brief phone interview. “I have nothing else to say.” (New York Times)

Ayad Allawi said the political deadlock is behind the new wave of violence. He also raised the prospect that the impasse could last for months as both sides try to cobble together the majority needed to govern.

“This is blamed on the power vacuum of course, and on how democracy is being raped in Iraq,” Allawi told The Associated Press in an interview. “Because people are sensing there are powers who want to obstruct the path of democracy, terrorist and al-Qaeda are on the go… I think their operations will increase in Iraq.” He added that he did not foresee any clear timetable to form a government. “It could either be formed in two months or it could last four or five months,” he said. (CBC)

“People are afraid to go out. There is no security all over Iraq; all this is happening because of the political parties,” said Abu Muhammed al-Rubaie, 45. “They should form the next government soon, because if they don’t, only God knows what will happen next.” (Washington Post)

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