Suicide bomber hits Baghdad funeral

At least 7 are killed as insurgents aim to evade crackdown

February 21, 2007|By Christian Berthelsen | Christian Berthelsen,Los ANgeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Unlike so many deaths in this city these days, the passing of Ahmed Lami was remarkable not for its violent end but for its lack of bloodshed: He died of natural causes, at age 65.

But even peaceful death has become a magnet for violence. As his Shiite Muslim family and friends gathered to mourn his passing yesterday afternoon under a tent in a middle-class, religiously mixed neighborhood on Palestine Street, a suicide bomber walked in, sat down and detonated his explosives, killing at least seven people and injuring 21 others.

The funeral bombing was among several car bombings, shootings and explosions around Iraq yesterday that suggested insurgents are finding new ways to evade a continuing security crackdown by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

At least six people were killed in what authorities described as a crude attempt to detonate a chemical weapon in Taji, about 12 miles northwest of Baghdad. Insurgents blew up a truck holding two tanks of chlorine gas, which were thrown clear of the truck and leaked, the U.S. military said. Scores of people suffered nausea, vomiting and irritated eyes from exposure to the gas, according to wire service reports. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of the gas can cause deadly respiratory damage.

The U.S. military said a Marine died yesterday during combat in the Anbar province in western Iraq.

At the Lami funeral, attendance was smaller than usual for such public events, because fear of death grips the capital. Lami's family even took precautions to guard against a car bomb attack, blocking off entrances to the tent with a mini-bus and palm tree trunks.

But the suicide bomber took advantage of common courtesies extended to individual attendees at such ceremonies, where food is served and strangers are welcome to partake.

"The suicide bomber came in and greeted us and sat down," said Lami's cousin, Sabur Abdul-Hussein, who suffered slight shrapnel wounds in the blast. "We thought he was poor, waiting for the feast to be served. We asked each other if someone might know him." After two minutes, Abdul-Hussein said, the stranger blew himself up.

Abdul-Hussein said his family began to feel safer when the new security plan was announced but now thinks the city is gripped by a violence that will not let go. Among the dead were two of Abdul-Hussein's brothers and five of his cousins.

"The scene was chaos; women came out from the deceased's house and started wailing and beating their chests," he said. "And there were my relatives' bodies, scattered and torn to pieces."

Elsewhere, a bomb Monday evening caused severe damage to a provincial office of the Iraqi National Accord, the party of former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, who returned to Iraq last week in a bid to unify the nation's political factions. Allawi, a one-time protege of Western intelligence agencies, had been living in London and Amman, Jordan, after his party fared poorly in 2005 parliamentary elections.

Police also found 25 bodies dumped around Baghdad. A source in the Interior Ministry said the bodies, all with gunshot wounds, bore no markings of torture, as they often have in the past.

The U.S. military yesterday also updated the number of wounded in Monday's attack on a U.S. base in Tarmiya from 17 to 29.

Christian Berthelsen writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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