To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
02 Feb 2008 10:20
Remote-controlled explosives were strapped to two women with Down’s syndrome and detonated in coordinated attacks on two Friday-morning markets in central Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 73 people and wounding nearly 150.
The first targeted shoppers at a pet market in the al-Ghazl area, killing 46 people and injuring 100. About 20 minutes later, a second bomber struck at a smaller bird market in south-eastern Baghdad, killing 27 people and wounding at least 67.
The toll made it one of the deadliest days since the United States troop surge a year ago began to arrest the spread of violence.
The chief Iraqi military spokesperson in Baghdad, Brigadier General Qassim al-Moussawi, claimed the female bombers had Down’s syndrome and that the explosives were detonated by remote control, indicating they may not have been willing attackers in what could be a new method by suspected Sunni insurgents to subvert stepped-up security measures.
The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said the bombings show that al-Qaeda has “found a different, deadly way” to try to destabilise Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the bombings in Iraq prove al-Qaeda is “the most brutal and bankrupt of movements” and will strengthen Iraqi resolve to reject terrorism.
Police said both bombers were women who had slipped past local security checks by hiding explosives under their black abaya robes.
Major General Qassim Moussawi, spokesperson for the Iraqi military in Baghdad, said the suicide bombs were detonated remotely by cellphones.
“We found the mobiles used to detonate the women,” he said, adding that the women had mental disabilities.
In January, the number of Iraqi civilians and security forces killed fell to 600, the lowest monthly death toll since December 2005, according to unofficial tallies. Despite the nationwide reduction in violence, senior US military officials in Iraq have repeatedly warned against complacency, saying that a number of Sunni and Shi’ite militant groups are still bent on fomenting sectarian strife.
The twin blasts underlined the fragility of the recent security gains in Baghdad and are bound to damage public confidence in the ability of Iraqi security forces and neighbourhood watch groups to stop attacks on Iraqi civilians.
The weekly animal bazaar at al-Ghazl has been bombed several times since the US invasion in 2003. But the improved security environment in recent months has revived its popularity. Taking advantage of the lifting of the Friday curfew on vehicles, families flocked to the area.
Witnesses said the bomber had passed through a checkpoint, claiming she had birds to sell. “She called people to her and then there was a flash and a big force, and we were all knocked to the ground,” said Kamel Hayder, a student who had gone to the market with his younger brother.
“When I raised myself there were bodies everywhere, and I was covered in blood, but I could not tell whether it was my own or that of the birds,” he said.
A pigeon vendor said the market had been unusually crowded, with people taking advantage of the day off to be outdoors on the pleasantly crisp and clear winter day. January had been unusually cold and rainy.
“I have been going to the pet market with my friend every Friday, selling and buying pigeons,” said Ali Ahmed, who was hit by shrapnel in his legs and chest. “It was nice weather today and the market was so crowded.”
He said he was worried about his friend, Zaki, who had disappeared after the blast. “I just remember the horrible scene of the bodies of dead and wounded people mixed with the blood of animals and birds, then I found myself lying in a hospital bed,” he added.
Rescuers hauled the dead and wounded on to makeshift stretchers or the back of pick-up trucks. The wounded were taken to five hospitals. The casualties included a high number of women and children.
The blast occurred close to the site of another bombing that killed 13 people on November 23. US commanders blamed that attack on an Iranian-backed Shi’ite militant cell, which they said was trying to lay the blame on al-Qaeda in order to drive the area’s mostly Shi’ite residents back into the arms of Shia militias for protection.
There were no claims for Friday’s attacks. US and Iraqi commanders said Sunni militant groups are stepping up efforts to recruit female suicide bombers, in part because cultural sensitivities mean the predominantly male police force is less likely to pay close attention to them at checkpoints.
While involving women in such deadly activity violates cultural taboos in Iraq, the US military has warned that al-Qaeda is recruiting women and young people as suicide attackers to thwart stepped-up security measures. Syria also has reportedly tightened its border with Iraq, a main transit point for foreign bombers.
Women in Iraq often wear abayas, the black Islamic robe, and avoid thorough searches at checkpoints because men are not allowed to touch them.—guardian.co.uk Â
Create Account | Lost Your Password?