2 bombings at Shiite market in Hillah kill at least 45

Other attacks around Iraq leave more than 40 dead

30 bodies are found in capital

February 02, 2007|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Mohammed Raad and his friends, Ali and Abdullah Sami, had just finished working out at a gym yesterday when the first explosion ripped through the crowded market street in Hillah, overturning carts and blowing out shop windows.

Despite the chaos, Raad then clearly heard a policeman shout: "suicide bomber."

He saw the officer run toward a man who had opened his jacket to reveal a belt of explosives. With a last heroic gesture, the policeman threw his arms around the bomber, shielding others with his own body from the force of the second blast, according to Raad and other witnesses in the southern Iraq city.

"He hugged him and the explosives tore apart both bodies," said Raad. He sheepishly recounted how he fled without looking back, leaving his friends, who were knocked down by the second explosion. "I ran, and I just left them there," he said.

The bombings that struck the crowded Shiite Muslim market yesterday afternoon killed at least 45 people and wounded another 150, police said. Additional bombings, mortar attacks and assassinations left more than 40 other people dead around Iraq during the day, authorities said.

Fortunately, Raad said, his friends were not among the dead in Hillah.

It was the third such attack in the heart of the city in two years, and the second on Maktabat Street.

"It's 100 percent sectarian," said Raad, who blamed Sunnis for the attack. "It doesn't need an explanation."

On the city's main street, families had been walking among the market shopping stalls, finishing their weekend shopping. Raad, a 19-year-old high school student, needed new notebooks, so the friends had been heading toward the stationery store.

Local police said a pair of suicide bombers blew up the market, but Raad said the first explosion was caused by a roadside bomb.

"Everything was turned upside down," he said, remembering its impact.

Hussein Shaheed, the 22-year-old owner of a pickle shop, was buying material for his shop with his friend Ahmed when the explosion ripped through the market.

"I felt myself thrown into the air," he said. Hitting the ground, he was momentarily paralyzed. Ahmed lay next to him, and around them people were screaming. Shaheed's shop was burning.

Eventually, police helped get him and Ahmed off the ground. Gathering all his strength, Shaheed went to another shop belonging to his brother, Firas.

There, a charred body lay by the doorstep. But his brother was alive, though his clothes were torn and his head had been injured by flying shards of glass.

"It felt like doomsday," Shaheed said later. "I can still smell the burning flesh."

At a local hospital, Dr. Qaisar Mohammed said training had not prepared the physicians for the carnage. Victims who had been burned, wounded or lost limbs in the explosion flooded the facility, which did not have the capacity to care for everyone. Medicine and other supplies ran short and had to be brought from other hospitals.

"My hands were shaking when I was fixing an injection for one of the patients," he said. "The screams of women and children are still ringing in my ears."

In Baghdad, meanwhile, 30 unidentified bodies were found dumped in various neighborhoods. A suicide bomber got on a bus in the Shiite neighborhood of Karada and set off his explosives, killing six and injuring a dozen others. Elsewhere in the city, a car bomb killed three people and injured seven and a bomb hidden in a trash heap killed one and injured three. Mortar rounds killed four people in separate attacks.

In Diyala province, gunmen killed the dean of the Sports College, Welhan Hameed, along with his son on the college grounds.

Last month, the United Nations reported that at least 34,400 Iraqis had been killed in the country's sectarian civil war during 2006 between the bombing of the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22 and the end of the year. At least 2,067 more Iraqis were killed during the month just ended, according to Iraqi government statistics.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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