Mosque bombed in Iraq

78 dead

Suicide attack during prayers injures about 150

April 08, 2006|By JOHN JOHNSON JR. | JOHN JOHNSON JR.,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Three suicide bombers blew themselves up in a coordinated attack against worshipers at an influential Shiite mosque in the Iraqi capital yesterday, killing at least 78 people and injuring 154.

The carnage left witnesses and relatives angry and shaken. Security forces vowed revenge.

The attack, which came shortly after the end of Friday prayers, was certain to further inflame tensions between Shiites, who now dominate Iraqi politics, and Sunnis, who form the core of Iraq's insurgency.

Two of the attackers were dressed in black abayas, women's cloaks, officials said.

"The initial investigation suggests that women or a man dressing in women's clothes was successful in reaching the checkpoint that searches women," Sheik Jalaluddin Sighur, a member of parliament and the imam of the Bratha mosque, said in a television interview.

"The explosion confused people, giving the opportunity to the other two terrorists to penetrate the security zone. One of them headed to my office."

One mosque worker, pointing out a severed body part still dressed in pantyhose as that of an attacker, said: "There she is." It was not clear whether the three attackers were counted among the 78 dead.

Sighur said Sunni propaganda inspired the attack. A Sunni-backed newspaper had charged that the Bratha mosque was being used as a detention center for Sunni prisoners and that it held mass graves, Sighur said.

At the scene of the bombing, armed members of the Shiite-dominated security forces prowled the streets, firing rounds of ammunition into the air and blaring sirens.

Witnesses described a scene of horror. Rescuers sorted through the gore of severed body parts to find and treat the living.

Ahmad Sebti, 37, a nurse who was injured in the attack, said he was leaving the mosque when the first explosion occurred. Screaming worshippers rushed back inside.

Sebti said he saw a man bleeding from the chest and stooped to treat him when the second explosion occurred, hitting him with a piece of shrapnel. The man with the chest wound died, Sebti said.

Police and soldiers threw a cordon around the area, while broken bodies were draped over stretchers and wooden wheelbarrows.

Over the mosque's loudspeakers came repeated calls for blood donors.

The dead and dying were taken to several hospitals, including Karkh hospital, across the street from the mosque. Some of the injured dragged themselves to the hospital, leaving trails of blood behind them.

At Medical City Hospital, more than 150 patients filled the emergency room and lined the hallways. Men, women and children lay on beds and on the floor groaning and crying out, their clothes ripped by shrapnel, their bandages soaked red.

Doctors tried to keep order while orderlies futilely tried to mop up the blood. Blood covered the walls, the stretchers, doctors' clothes.

Zahara Ali, 11, lay on a stretcher beside her wounded father, Ali Juhal Ali, her legs bloody and pocked by metal shards.

"As the preacher finished, there was a big explosion, and then another," Zahara said quietly. "Then I saw my brother wounded.

"We started running back inside, and, as I was crying out for my brother, there was another explosion."

The father, a Baghdad merchant, said his son and another younger daughter were at another hospital. He did not know the boy's condition but believed his other daughter was not badly hurt.

"But I worry about her mind," he said, lying back on his stretcher. "The explosion threw blood and flesh on her. If her body was wounded, she would be able to heal, but I'm afraid that her soul will be wounded by this forever."

Juhal Ali and others blamed Americans for failing to prevent the attack.

"The Americans are preventing the police force from attacking the terrorists more forcefully. America is responsible," one man said. "The police should attack the terrorists directly. And the Sunnis should not be allowed to protect the terrorists."

Responding to the attack, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad offered condolences.

"The United States condemns this cowardly act in the strongest possible terms," he said. He warned that the fault lines in the nation's cultural fabric were deepening, increasing the danger of all-out civil war.

Khalilzad urged Iraqis to exercise restraint and pledged that the United States would "do everything in its power" to help the government capture those who planned the attack.

Leading Shiites also appealed for calm, reasoning that they had more to gain from a stable political situation where they were in the majority.

However, Salih Haydari, head of the Shiite Endowment, demanded that the government "fulfill its obligations toward the people and not listen to those abominable voices that back up terrorists or provide help to them. ... Patience is over."

Sighur said Shiites would not "be dragged into sectarian" warfare, but he also accused the Al Etisam newspaper, controlled by Adnan Dulaymi, of providing justification for the attack.

Reached by phone, Dulaymi disavowed the accusations against the Bratha mosque. "I don't read the newspaper before they publish it," he said. He said he called Sighur to apologize for the accusations. "I told him that what was published is something we don't agree with and something we don't accept."

John Johnson Jr. writes for the Los Angeles Times. Times staff writers Borzou Daragahi, Solomon Moore, Raheem Salman and Saif Hameed contributed to this article.

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