Sifting through ruins, Iraqis search for remains, reasons

September 02, 2006|By Patrick J. McDonnell and Raheem Salman | Patrick J. McDonnell and Raheem Salman,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The civil defense men in blue uniforms joined neighborhood volunteers picking through the rubble with their hands, there being no heavy equipment to aid in the task. Dedicated young men used a nylon sack to bag bits of flesh, now destined for a proper Muslim interment.

"Why so many explosions at the same time?" asked Mohammed Mayahi, 57, whose sons were among the people burrowing for signs of life and death in the heap of debris that a day earlier had been a two-story apartment building, alive with families, shops and a restaurant. "How can people protect themselves? From which enemy? We must be vigilant, yes, but against which form of killing?"

Such was the doleful and confused scene yesterday in the east Baghdad neighborhood of Habibiya, where something - a rocket, a bomb or perhaps a mortar shell - tore into a building just before sundown as residents gathered on the eve of the weekly Islamic day of prayer, rest and contemplation.

The day-after canvass through the ruins has become so familiar in this tormented nation that the images might seem to some people a cliche, the grief ritualized.

But it was all real enough in Habibiya and other districts of east Baghdad, targets of a highly coordinated bombardment stunning even by this capital's gruesome standards. The official toll from Thursday's attack: 63 killed and 282 injured. Of the dead, 19 were children under 16, a police official said.

The weapons included rockets, mortars, car bombs and, in a twist, bombs placed inside buildings and apparently set off by timers.

In some cases, authorities said, the plotters might have rented apartments and shops in the preceding days with the sole intention of blowing them up - embedded bombers, a new and sinister turn in Iraq's cycle of carnage.

"These terrorists always seem capable of inventing a new way to kill people," said Mohammed Askari, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.

Patrick J. McDonnell and Raheem Salman write for the Los Angeles Times.

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