Multiple Suicide Bombings Of Shiite Areas Kill At Least 104

Thursday, March 29th 2007, 8:00 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD (AP) _ Multiple suicide bombers struck in predominantly Shiite markets in Baghdad and in a town north of the capital, killing at least 104 people and wounding scores on Thursday _ the day that new U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker took office.

Two of the suicide bombers struck a market in the Shaab neighborhood of northeastern Baghdad at 6 p.m., killing at least 61 people and wounding 40, police and security officials said.

About the same time, three suicide car bombers attacked a market in the town of Khalis north of Baghdad, killing at least 43 people and wounding 86, according to police and officials in the predominantly Shiite town.

The first attacker in Khalis drove his explosives-laden car into the crowded area, followed in five-minute intervals by the other two bombers, who apparently were aiming at rescue crews and onlookers gathering in the aftermath, police said.

Police said the bombers came from two separate directions.

Khalis is in volatile Diyala province, where fighting has been raging among Sunni insurgents, Shiite militiamen and U.S. and Iraqi troops.

It has been struck by bombings several times in recent months, most recently on Jan. 22 when a bomb followed by a mortar attack struck a market, killing at least 12 people and wounding 29, police said.

A suicide bomber also blew himself up near a Shiite mosque in the town on Dec. 30, killing nine people and wounding about a dozen.

The Shaab neighborhood of Baghdad was one of the first targets of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers searching for Shiite militants and weapons in a six-week-old security sweep aimed at stopping the sectarian violence.

It also was the site of a bombing earlier this month that police and the U.S. military said involved the use of two children as decoys. At least eight Iraqis and 28 wounded in that attack, which targeted people cooking food at open-air grills in the street as part of a Shiite Muslim holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad's death.

At his swearing-in ceremony in the heavily fortified Green Zone, Crocker said he was taking over the ``most critical foreign policy mission'' facing the U.S.

Hours before his address, a bomb planted under a parked car tore through a Baghdad market in the mixed Al-Bayaa neighborhood, killing three and wounding 26.

About the same time, a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in the restive town of Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 19.

The mosque and four adjacent stores were slightly damaged, said a police officer at the scene who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In Baqouba, an insurgent stronghold 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, 15 masked gunmen sneaked up on four policemen guarding the local government's agriculture department offices, disarming them and later blowing up the one-story building, police said.

Such attacks are not uncommon and are designed to disrupt government activity or deny U.S. and Iraqi troops a potential base during combat against the insurgents.

Crocker spoke in fluent Arabic when he told the U.S. Embassy's Iraqi employees: ``You are the heroes of the country, in the true meaning of the word.''

Taking up where his predecessor Zalmay Khalilzad left off, the 57-year-old Crocker warned Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that his government ``must take all the necessary steps to unite the country.'' He left no doubt of his commitment to the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, which is under withering attack by Congress.

``President Bush's policy is the right one. There has been progress; there is also much more to be done,'' he said.

After listing challenges being faced in the coming months, including shepherding benchmark legislation through parliament, Crocker said: ``All of this will be very hard, but if I thought it was impossible I would not be standing here today.''

Speaking of recent rocket attacks on the Green Zone, in which an American contractor and a U.S. soldier were killed, Crocker issued his condolences to the U.S. diplomatic community.

``In the past few days, all have been reminded of the dangers we face serving here. The losses to our community sadden us, but they also must renew our commitment to this mission. The sacrifices you are making for our country's most critical foreign policy mission is a tribute to your loyalty and patriotism,'' he said.

In the northwestern city of Tal Afar, when five mortar shells hit a Shiite district, wounding three people, said police Brig. Abdul-Karim al-Jibouri.

The shelling came a day after Shiite militants and police went on a shooting rampage against Sunnis in the city, killing as many as 70 men execution-style. The killings were triggered by twin truck bombings there the previous day that killed 80 people and wounded 185.

U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus said revenge-seeking police apparently were behind the retribution killings, but he blamed al-Qaida for starting the carnage with a bombing. His comments were the first military confirmation that Shiite-dominated police forces were among the militants who went on the rampage.

``We're still trying to get the exact details of what happened but it appears that there clearly were some kind of retribution killings by police,'' Petraeus told The Associated Press and another news agency in a brief interview.

Petraeus said al-Qaida was trying to provoke a resurgence of violence by Shiite militiamen, who have largely laid low since a U.S.-Iraqi security operation in Baghdad started on Feb. 14.

But he said the security plan remained ``generally on track,'' citing a drop in the number of bullet-riddled bodies found in the capital and the recent capture of senior officials allegedly connected to the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Tal Afar was under curfew Thursday for the second successive day, al-Jibouri said.

Husham al-Hamdani, head of the provincial government's security committee in nearby Mosul, said local authorities planned a reconciliation meeting between the city's Sunni and Shiite leaders. He also announced that policemen arrested Wednesday on suspicion of taking part in the revenge killings have been freed. He declined to give a reason.

Iraq's national traffic police chief, meanwhile, escaped an assassination attempt when gunmen ambushed his convoy in a northern Baghdad district, a police official said.

Two of Gen. Jaafar Kadhim's guards were killed and two were injured when the gunmen opened up on the convoy in the Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah, said the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Elsewhere in the capital, a booby-trapped car abandoned on a main road in a western area blew up when police attempted to extract a dead body they found inside.

The blast in the Amil district killed two policemen and wounded six people, including three more policemen, said police officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.