Apr 18, 2007
BAGHDAD: An avalanche of car bomb attacks on Shiite districts of Baghdad slaughtered 190 people on Wednesday and delivered a savage blow to the credibility of a two-month-old US security plan.
The series of blasts was the deadliest in the Iraqi capital since the launch of the massive crackdown; the single most devastating blast alone killed 140 people, mainly civilian commuters and shoppers.
The bombings ripped through five districts of the sprawling capital, where 80,000 Iraqi and US troops are straining to enforce order and contain the daily violence terrorising Baghdad's five million residents.
In the bloodiest attack, a parked car exploded on a principal intersection and in a busy market area in the downtown district of Al-Sadriyah, scattering charred corpses among a row of burnt-out buses.
After a deafening blast that sent a dense cloud of putrid black smoke spewing into the sky, a fire incinerated human flesh, cars and vehicles as rescue workers rushed to the scene.
Fire fighters doused nearby cars and buses, as dozens of ambulances and pick-up trucks ferried wounded to hospital and volunteers wrapped charred bodies in carpets for transport to the city's overflowing mortuaries.
Angry Iraqis who lost loved ones lashed out at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, blaming his beleaguered government for failing to bring law and order to the streets of the capital, nearly a year after it took office.
"Down with Maliki! Where is the security plan? We are not protected by this plan," they shouted, as an angry mob pelted stones at Iraqi and American soldiers who scrambled to the scene.
A security official put the Sadriyah blast death toll at 140.
The US military put Wednesday's combined death toll at 131 with 164 wounded in four car bomb attacks, several dozens lower than Iraqi security officials.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates vowed that Washington would persevere with the security plan, saying a spike in violence was to be expected.
"We have anticipated from the very beginning... that the insurgency and others would increase the violence to make the people of Iraq believe the plan is a failure," Gates said in Tel Aviv.
"We intend to persist to show that it is not."
On February 3, a truck bomb in the same Baghdad market -- a mixed Kurdish and Shiite area -- killed at least 130 people in the final days before the official launch of the crackdown on February 14.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed the attack on infidels and "Takfiri vampires" -- a reference to Sunni extremists -- and demanded that politicians from both sides of the sectarian divide condemn it.
He also said that the Iraqi army regimental commander responsible for the area had been detained and would be investigated over "the weakness of the measures taken to protect civilians".
"This monstrous attack today did not distinguish between the old and young, between men and women. It targeted the population in a way that reminds us of the massacres and genocide committed by the former dictatorship," he said.
Markets are favourite targets for bomb attacks, the trademark tactic of Sunni extremists bent on slaughtering Shiites, the majority community in Iraq that today heads the government and dominates the security forces.
US military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox admitted commanders were frustrated at their inability to prevent such car bombings, but insisted Iraq was not witnessing any further escalation of sectarian violence.
"It is very clear that it is a violent response from people who want the Baghdad security plan to fail. The pattern suggests the attacks are by Sunni extremists," he said.
"There is frustration of not being ahead of what happened today. But we are not seeing a degradation... tit-for-tat sectarian attacks."
Another car bomb killed 28 people and wounded 44 after ripping through civilians near an Iraqi army checkpoint in east Baghdad's main Shiite district of Sadr City.
The neighbourhood is a bastion of Shiite militia faithful to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and has frequently been targeted by car bombings blamed on Sunni extremists.
At least 11 civilians were killed and 12 wounded, including women and children, when a car bomb exploded on a main road near a private hospital in the central Karrada district, formerly upmarket but fallen on hard times. Eleven other people, including four policemen, were killed in separate car bombings elsewhere in the capital.
On top of the Baghdad carnage, five people were killed elsewhere in Iraq and police found more than two dozen corpses, security officials said.
Wednesday's bloodshed overshadowed a ceremony in southern Iraq that saw government forces assume security control of the oil-rich Maysan province from British forces as part of plans in London to draw down troops.