Coordinated strike targets Baghdad

At least 53 killed in barrage of attacks

September 01, 2006|By Patrick J. McDonnell | Patrick J. McDonnell,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Rockets slammed into buildings, bombs exploded on the streets and mortar rounds fell from the sky before nightfall yesterday in an apparently coordinated strike on the capital, killing at least 53 people and injuring almost 200, authorities said.

The multiple attacks, which occurred as residents were returning home on the eve of the weekly Islamic holy day, struck a broad swath of largely Shiite Muslim districts in east Baghdad, immediately raising suspicions of sectarian motives.

The arsenal unleashed on the civilian targets included at least four Katyusha rockets, two car bombs, two roadside bombs and a pair of mortar shells, police sources said. All detonated during a 25-minute period beginning at 6:05 p.m.

Among the dead were at least 13 women and a dozen children, authorities said. The death toll was expected to rise.

The attack came as U.S. and Iraqi authorities have lauded the results of a joint security crackdown in the capital and as beleaguered Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has launched a reconciliation campaign to help heal this divided nation. Parliament is expected to return next week after a two-month summer break.

The prime minister voiced hopes yesterday that Iraqi forces could take over security responsibilities for most of Iraq by the end of the year.

The U.S. military has said that a surge in violence in recent days is a direct response to the enhanced capital security plan, which involves the deployment of an additional 11,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Yesterday's strike, one of the most deadly in Baghdad in recent months, displayed a level of coordination not seen here in some time. It suggested that the insurgency retains its ability to launch horrific and well-planned operations.

In recent months, officials have said that Shiite-led death squads had become the nation's most prolific killers, usually seeking out Sunnis. But yesterday's attacks appeared to have the hallmarks of well-organized insurgent cells working in tandem, not Shiite gunmen.

The ferocity of the blitz seemed to stun even residents of a city accustomed to a daily fare of car bombs, ambushes and artillery shots. The attacks capped a five-day spike in violence.

July was the deadliest month since the end of the U.S.-led invasion, with more than 100 Iraqis reported killed each day. The U.S.-Iraqi security clampdown had succeeded in bringing the murder rate down substantially in August, U.S. authorities had said, until the mayhem picked up again this week.

Yesterday's targets were spread out along a 12-mile arc on the east side of the Tigris, spanning at least a half-dozen neighborhoods, including both Shiite-dominated and mixed Shiite-Sunni districts.

The continuing sectarian violence has prompted many residents to move from formerly integrated communities to areas where their sect predominates and armed paramilitary forces provide some measure of protection. In general, eastern Baghdad is mostly Shiite while the Sunni enclaves occupy the west bank of the Tigris.

Yesterday's barrage of rockets appears to have been synchronized with the simultaneous onslaught of mortar strikes, car bombs and roadside bombs, attesting to the sophistication of the assault. Nearby rocket strikes followed both of the car bombs, which were detonated in two different neighborhoods.

Targets hit included a popular market and at least three buildings, authorities said.

The wounded and dying were taken to five hospitals, which reportedly were overwhelmed by the patient load.

Patrick J. McDonnell writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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