130 die in Iraq bomb blast

Attack in Baghdad deadliest explosion since U.S. invasion

February 04, 2007|By Tina Susman | Tina Susman,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A dump truck hauling a ton of explosives hidden beneath boxes of food exploded in the center of a crowded Baghdad market yesterday, killing at least 130 people and injuring more than 300 in the deadliest single bomb blast since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The attack, by a suicide bomber, was designed to inflict a massive physical and psychological toll on a population haunted by a string of devastating strikes on other markets, including one Thursday that killed 73 people in the southern city of Hillah, and one in Baghdad last month that killed more than 80.

This one came in the evening, when the Sadriya market was crowded with after-work shoppers.

The truck's payload included land mines, ammunition, rockets, mortars and other explosives, which erupted in a fireball and sent buildings crashing down on top of merchants and customers, said Maj. Gen. Jihad al-Jabiri of Iraq's Interior Ministry.

The White House and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denounced the attack, which was another reminder that their vows to counter spiraling bloodshed with increased troops are having no deterrent effect. Ten other explosions, including seven car bombs in the northern city of Kirkuk and one south of Baghdad, killed at least three more people yesterday. In addition, Iraqi police reported finding the bodies of 15 Iraqi men around Baghdad, all shot to death and apparent victims of the sectarian warfare enveloping the country.

Shirwan Ridha, a taxi driver, was on his last run of the day and was standing near his minivan, waiting for it to fill with passengers, when the truck blew up about 300 feet away from him. "Huge fire rose to the sky. I was thrown into the air and then to the ground," Ridha said. "I saw my car being destroyed, and the people inside it were shouting and screaming."

`It is turmoil'

Hamed Majed, a butcher who works in the market, said he was tending to customers when he noticed a large yellow truck struggling to navigate through the narrow street, which was lined with cafes, food shops and stores selling everything from DVDs to computer goods. When some people asked the driver where he was trying to go, he "told them he was carrying food products for the shops in the area," Majed said.

Seconds later, after the truck had gone about 500 feet down the road, it exploded. "The explosion was the biggest one that I have seen in my life," said Majed, adding that he has seen several in the area. The market area was hit by a series of blasts Dec. 2 that killed 51 people. A June bombing in the market killed four people.

"The shop walls, ceiling and the refrigerators fell on us," said Majed, 35, who suffered leg and head injuries. "The people rescued me ... and transferred me to the main street by a cart." He spoke from Kindi Hospital, which was so overwhelmed with casualties that it began turning away new ones and sending them to other medical facilities.

Bodies covered in white sheets were laid out on the hospital floor outside the emergency room. Survivors were also being treated on the floors. "The situation is catastrophic," said one hospital official. "It is turmoil over here. The halls are filled with the blood of the injured and the dead. There are children, women and men."

The explosion severely damaged 10 apartment buildings and left a ghastly landscape of human remains, food, shattered goods and animal meat that was sent hurtling from butchers' stalls. Witnesses said fuel from generators added to the blast's fiery aftermath. One man, wearing a black leather jacket, sobbed as he clung to a piece of blackened metal protruding from the ground.

The White House called the attack an "atrocity." Al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister, echoed the denunciation and blamed it on "Saddamists and Takfirists," a reference to supporters of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Sunni Muslim extremists.

The attack was similar to others blamed on Sunni forces, who have frequently used car bombs to strike at crowded, civilian targets in Shiite-dominated or ethnically mixed areas, such as Sadriya.

Appeal for unity

Just hours earlier, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most revered Shiite cleric, had appealed for an end to sectarian bloodshed, saying it was the duty of good Muslims to discourage violence and dissension. "We need to be more united than ever and keep ourselves away from sectarian tumult and sectarian clashes," he said in a statement.

At the same time, a Sunni militant group linked to al-Qaida vowed to step up attacks across Iraq and claimed responsibility for the string of Kirkuk bombs.

The same group claimed responsibility for shooting down a U.S. military helicopter north of Baghdad on Friday, which killed two U.S. crew members.

Three more U.S. military deaths were reported yesterday by military officials - two in fighting in western Anbar province, and one in a non-combat incident.

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