Dozens die in Baghdad attack

5 blasts leave 32 dead, scores wounded in vibrant shopping district


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- An attack on one of the richest neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital killed at least 32 civilians yesterday and left scores of wounded, most of them moderate, middle-class Shiite Muslims shopping in one of Baghdad's few vibrant commercial districts.

At least five blasts struck the upscale Karradah district, including a devastating car bomb that set shops ablaze and incinerated passers-by along a crowded strip of butcher shops.

Iraqi police, holding AK-47s and pistols and firing into the air, quickly sealed off the area.

Footage taken immediately after the blast and broadcast on state-owned Iraqiya television showed a weeping woman, her face bloodied, being led away. Two men struggled to carry an elderly man over a pile of debris from crushed buildings. Survivors begged police to help friends and loved ones trapped inside an inferno.

"I headed back to my shop to see it blazing with fire and my friends and neighbors killed or wounded," said Zuhair Ali Hussein Zaidi, 30, a hardware store owner who left to investigate a blast only to return and find his shop destroyed. "I saw children completely burned and many injured. People were evacuating the dead and injured by carrying them out."

The explosions turned buildings into heaps of twisted girders, rubble and dust. Bloodied residents scrambled around the neighborhood looking for loved ones, including a missing 11-year-old girl on a shopping errand. Six bodies were discovered beneath piles of rubble eight hours after the blast.

The 10 a.m. attack bore the signature of Sunni Arab insurgents such as al-Qaida in Iraq. Police said four of the five blasts were caused by rockets or mortars. But officials have often attributed such explosions to indirect fire, hoping to stave off blame for allowing insurgents to maneuver explosives-packed vehicles past checkpoints that dot the city.

Overlapping layers of insurgent, sectarian, ethnic, tribal and criminal violence have overwhelmed Iraqi civilians, many of whom stay clustered in their homes and neighborhoods out of fear for their lives.

"There are many collaborators involved in the violence," said Saif Daik, a 23-year-old grocery store employee near one of the blast sites. "The Americans, the foreign fighters, the political parties, the criminals and the terrorists, all are part of it."

At least 15 people were killed when four car bombs struck the neighborhood in a coordinated attack 13 months ago. Yesterday's attacks came amid talk of bolstering the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad as a way to fix a six-week security crackdown that has failed to reduce violence in the capital.

Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the U.S. commander of day-to-day operations in Iraq, said Wednesday that he wants to use U.S. soldiers to oversee infrastructure projects.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, on a visit to the United States, draws the backbone of his political support from areas such as Karradah. In a statement yesterday, he blamed the attack on religious extremists and loyalists to the regime of Saddam Hussein, condemning it as "new evidence of their defeat, bankruptcy and rancor toward anything Iraqi."

Violence has escalated in Iraq this year despite numerous plans to improve security, the death of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the formation of a permanent government.

At least 19 bodies of men, shot in the head and bearing signs of torture, were found yesterday in Baghdad.

Gunmen killed three men working for a foreign security company in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour, also the site of clashes between suspected insurgents and police today. Five traffic police officers were reported kidnapped in east Baghdad.

Two American military personnel "suffered minor wounds" Wednesday during a joint U.S.-Iraqi "counter death squad operation" that netted five suspects and "bomb-making materials," a news release said.

In violence outside the capital, gunmen opened fire yesterday on a checkpoint manned by Georgian soldiers outside Baqouba, wounding several, police and witnesses said. American support vehicles evacuated the soldiers to an airbase. Two bomb blasts in and around the religiously mixed city northeast of the capital left at least four dead and nine injured.

Two Iraqi police officers, a soldier and a civilian were killed in separate incidents in and around the northern city of Kirkuk.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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