Scores are killed in Baghdad attacks

At least 87 dead in market bombings

February 13, 2007|By Borzou Daragahi and Said Rifai | Borzou Daragahi and Said Rifai,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Within the dense warren of shops and storefronts of the Shorja market ordinary life drummed along yesterday morning. Security guard Abdul-Ameer Mohammed stood at his post in front of a bank. Nail Ahmed, owner of a porcelain pottery store in the market, took a break and shopped for spices for his wife. Maytham Qazzaz, a plastics and nylon merchant, worked the phones.

Then the explosions erupted, yet another in a series of attacks on crowded Baghdad marketplaces. Ordinary life became engulfed in fire, twisted metal, collapsed buildings, shattered glass, black smoke and blood. At least 78 Iraqis were killed in the attack and 166 injured. They were among the victims of sectarian violence that left more than 100 dead yesterday in the capital alone.

"Every day we pray before going to work because Shorja has become a repeated target," said Ahmed, the pottery store owner, recovering from injuries to his back and head at the capital's Medical City hospital. "But what can we do? We have to work to put food on the table for our families."

Minutes ahead of the Shorja blast, an explosion caused by a suicide bomber wearing an explosives-packed belt ripped though a crowd at the nearby Bab al-Sharji marketplace, killing at least nine people and injuring 19. The attacks coincided with the Islamic lunar calendar anniversary of the bombing last year at a Shiite Muslim shrine complex in Samarra that intensified the country's slide into sectarian civil war.

Yesterday's attacks also were laden with sectarian implications. The vast majority of the shoppers, sellers, truckers and young unskilled laborers lugging goods among the thick crowds at the Shorja and Bab al-Sharji markets are Shiites. Such near-simultaneous bombings of marketplaces are trademarks of Sunni Arab insurgents.

Yesterday's marketplace explosions shook the city for miles around, filled hospitals and choked traffic throughout the war-scarred capital.

Mohammed, the security guard, said the blast sent the bank's steel doors hurtling toward him. "I heard many loud indistinguishable noises before I fainted," he said, sitting on a sidewalk and nursing a wound to his head.

Witnesses, victims and rescue workers described horrific scenes of carnage, with the injured and dead trapped beneath rubble and inside burnt cars.

"We saw bodies and human remains scattered all over the place," said Jalil Abdul-Latif, an ambulance driver who spent the afternoon ferrying victims from the Shorja market to the Medical City hospital. "We dragged the bodies and the injured victims from inside cars and out of collapsed buildings."

Worst hit was a sprawling six-story complex at the heart of the Shorja market filled with stalls selling everything from clothes to cooking utensils and farming equipment.

An enormous fire on the third floor raged for hours. Firefighters on the scene frantically attempted to extinguish the flames, which only seemed to spread as the afternoon wore on.

Many of the dead were trapped inside collapsed buildings. Qazzaz, the plastics store owner, said he and his employees struggled to get the injured to hospitals, but were hampered by bridge closings and roadblocks. Ahmed was dismayed to learn that his 17-year-old employee, Saif, had been crushed to death inside his ruined porcelain shop.

In other violence throughout the capital, authorities discovered the bodies of at least 30 Iraqis scattered around the capital. Mortar shells struck southeastern and southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods, killing at least eight Iraqis and injuring 25.

A U.S. soldier died Sunday in a noncombat incident somewhere in Iraq, a news release said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces in Buhriz, a Sunni insurgent stronghold about 25 miles northeast of the capital, arrested police Maj. Khaled Saber Shammari, the head of the local force. He was accused of helping militants. U.S. and Iraqi forces have arrested 27 men during an aggressive sweep of the town backed by American air support.

Borzou Daragahi and Said Rifai write for the Los Angeles Times.

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