Baghdad bombings leave dozens dead

Three bomb attacks at markets in central Baghdad killed at least 76 people on Monday as Iraqis marked the first anniversary of a Shi’ite shrine bombing that pitched the country to the brink of civil war.

In the deadliest attack, twin car bombings exploded in quick succession in the Shorja wholesale market, killing at least 71 people and wounding 164, police said. Interior Ministry sources said the blasts were caused by a car bomb and a roadside bomb.

Huge clouds of black smoke and flames belched from a multi-storey building that houses wholesale clothing merchants, turning a cloudless day into night in the debris-strewn street.

The blasts, which echoed across Baghdad, reduced market stalls to mangled wrecks. People with wooden carts carried badly wounded survivors with bandaged legs, arms and heads.

“I saw three bodies shredded apart and people wounded being transported by ambulances,” said witness Wathiq Ibrahim.

“Paramedics were picking up body pieces and human flesh from the pools of blood on the ground and placing them in small plastic bags,” he said, adding that 20 cars were set on fire.

“The smoke turned the place dark.”

One old woman cursed the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has launched a United States-backed security plan in Baghdad that is seen as a last-ditch effort to avert all-out civil war between majority Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs.

“They’ve killed all our sons.
What have they left for us?” she shouted.

A separate roadside bomb attack at the Bab al-Sharji market, also in central Baghdad and home to Sunni Arab and Shi’ite traders, killed at least five people, police sources said.

The Shorja market, one of the city’s oldest and a key supplier for countless small shops scattered across the capital, has been bombed frequently. In a brazen daylight attack late last year, gunmen kidnapped dozens of porters at the market.

The bomb attacks occurred at about the same time as Shi’ite government officials, including Maliki, held several minutes of silence to mark the first anniversary under the Islamic calendar of the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra. Under the Gregorian calendar the bombing was on February 22.

Earlier, Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged followers not to seek revenge against Sunnis. Sistani said the Samarra bombing, blamed on Sunni militants, had plunged Iraq into a cycle of “blind violence”.

Sectarian Killings

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in a wave of sectarian attacks triggered by the destruction of the al-Askari mosque, one of the holiest in Shi’ite Islam. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced to flee sectarian cleansing.

“We call on the believers as they mark this sad occasion and express their feelings ... to exercise maximum levels of restraint and not to do or say anything that would harm our Sunni brothers who are innocent for what happened and who do not accept it,” Sistani said in a statement.

The reclusive Sistani, who lives in the holy city of Najaf, is regarded as a voice of moderation. Sistani, who heads the Shi’ite religious establishment, or Marjaiya, has repeatedly urged Shi’ites not to get sucked into sectarian conflict.

The violence unleashed by the Samarra bombing has complicated Washington’s plans to withdraw more than 130 000 troops. More than 3 100 American troops have been killed since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam in 2003.

US President George Bush has said Washington is sending 21 500 more troops to Iraq to bolster Maliki’s plan to stabilise Baghdad. Maliki said on Sunday Iraqi forces would step up their deployment in Baghdad this week.—Reuters

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