Baghdad bombings' toll at 68

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- Grief engulfed this city's most prosperous and lively enclave yesterday as residents struck by a suicide bomb attack a night earlier mourned their lost loved ones.

Authorities said the death count had increased to 68 people and that 120 others were injured in the Thursday evening attack, which targeted the Karada shopping and residential district. Fatalities rose steadily overnight as patients suffering severe burns and shrapnel wounds died.

The carefully planned attack was one of the most devastating in Baghdad in months. An explosion went off, attracting a huge crowd, which minutes later became the target of a bomber wearing an explosive device under his leather jacket, police said.

Along Karada's streets, funeral tents were spread open. Weeping relatives strapped simple wooden coffins to the rooftops of SUVs and minivans, driving slowly along the neighborhood's main streets as black-clad mourners walked behind, beating their chests in agony and wailing.

Shops remain shuttered, and the neighborhood was closed to outside traffic as young men swept the blast site clear of debris. Most of the dead were driven south to Najaf's Valley of Peace cemetery, the largest and most important place of burial for members of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority.

Many were ordinary residents of the neighborhood, enjoying an evening on the town. U.S. and Iraqi officials blamed the attack on al-Qaida in Iraq, a loosely organized network of Sunni Arab extremists.

"This terrorist attack was a senseless act of violence directed against the Iraqi people," Col. Allen Batschelet, of the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad, said in a statement.

Violence in Baghdad was minimal yesterday, but a pair of attacks targeted Iraqi law enforcement officials in the northern city of Mosul.

In one incident, a suicide car bomber rammed a downtown police station, killing four civilians and injuring 33. Later, a roadside bomb exploded near the home of a police officer. When people gathered at the bomb site, another blast went off, killing one and injuring 14, police said.

Sectarian and political violence has slowed in the months since a Baghdad security plan went into effect, but some bombings and killings continue. The bodies of at least three men were discovered yesterday in Baghdad.

Security gains have not been matched by political cooperation between the nation's feuding sectarian and ethnic groups. That has led to a fragile peace that could be upended at any time, said Wamidh Nadhmi, a Baghdad political scientist.

"There exists an option of violence in the absence of political progress," he said. "I think this feeds al-Qaida."

U.S. troops and Iraqi police continue pursuing both Sunni Arab militants suspected in bomb attacks and Shiite militiamen believed behind assassination campaigns.

U.S.-led forces in Baghdad captured a suspect who allegedly coordinated the training, funding and arming of militants on behalf of Iran, the U.S. military announced.

Early yesterday, Iraqi security forces raided an office belonging to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's movement, arresting two men and finding a half-ton of mercury in barrels. Tiny slivers of mercury can be used for explosive detonators, but such large quantities of the poisonous substance also could fetch a price on the black market.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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