Bombs kill at least 18 in Baghdad

36 hurt in suicide attack, the deadliest in Iraq in more than a month

April 15, 2005|By Colin McMahon | Colin McMahon,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two suicide car bombers struck minutes apart yesterday in Baghdad, missing most of the Interior Ministry police they aimed for but killing at least 18 people in the deadliest such attack in more than a month.

The Baghdad bombs exploded along Jamia Street, a busy thoroughfare in southeastern Baghdad. The first thunderous explosion sent up a red pillar of fire that engulfed several cars, shattered windows and shook buildings.

Staccato gunfire crackled as panicked private security guards and government forces stationed at the Interior Ministry facility fired randomly.

Seconds later, another bomb exploded about 100 yards away from the first blast.

Three hours later, U.S. forces found a third bomb nearby, which they destroyed in a controlled explosion, and there were unconfirmed reports of a fourth.

"I was sitting in a minibus with eight other passengers when a white Kia minibus crashed into us suddenly and detonated," said Abdel Ridha Mosa, 43, who was covered in cuts and blood. "I jumped from the window with the woman who was sitting beside me, but the others were completely burned. One was a woman I tried to save but could not."

Police said at least 36 people, including many women and children, were wounded.

The attack underscored the unpredictability of an insurgency marked by spikes and lulls in violence. Insurgent attacks are down in recent weeks, and the death toll for American forces has dropped sharply since February. But April has seen at least 54 car bombings, according to U.S. military figures. The past few days have been especially violent.

The Baghdad bombing was one of several attacks yesterday aimed at Iraqi security forces. Gunmen opened fire on a police station near Kirkuk shortly after dawn, killing five officers and one civilian, police said. The day before, a roadside bomb in Kirkuk killed 12 officers.

Insurgents also targeted security forces in Baqouba in central Iraq. An Iraqi intelligence officer was assassinated on his way to work in Baghdad. In Tikrit, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a U.S. base, wounding an American soldier, two Iraqi soldiers and several civilians.

The Baghdad bombings hit during the morning rush, within two minutes of each other, and shook the middle-class homes, shops, hotels and restaurants of the Karadah district.

"We were on a normal patrol, and they targeted us twice," said Ali Karim Hashim, 25, a police officer who was riding in a convoy that appeared to be the target. "When the first bomb went off, we accelerated, and then the second vehicle exploded. A lot of civilian cars were burned. A lot of innocent people were killed."

More than a dozen cars smoldered after the blasts, black smoke poured into the sky, and people raced frantically through the crowd, trying to scream for loved ones over the roar of helicopters. Police shot wildly into the air to chase off the crowd.

Students from a nearby secondary school wept and shouted that they would not be going back to school, the Associated Press reported. They waited in the street to be picked up, while less than a block away the dead and wounded were being tended to.

"I took six dead bodies with my own hands to the ambulance, God bless their souls," said Mohammed Jasem, 23, a police officer.

A Web site connected with Al-Qaida in Iraq, the militant group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the blasts. It said the targets were the convoy and a checkpoint guarding Interior Ministry offices where the minister, Falah Hassan al-Nakib, was present.

Nakib was uninjured, and the ministry building suffered little damage. At least one police officer was killed, officials said.

A government worker said five garbage collectors were among the dead.

Mosa, the businessman who escaped from his minivan after the blast, expressed anger that civilians again bore the brunt of the violence.

"What are we to do, stay in our houses and never leave?" he asked. "That is not a solution."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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