Market explosion kills 15

Bomb raises fears that relative calm in Baghdad has ended

November 24, 2007|By Tina Susman and Raheem Salman | Tina Susman and Raheem Salman,Los Angeles Times

Baghdad -- A bomb hidden in a box filled with birds exploded amid shoppers strolling through a colorful pet bazaar yesterday, killing up to 15 people, wounding dozens, and raising fears that the capital's stretch of relative calm has ended.

More deadly violence occurred north and south of Baghdad as insurgents appeared intent on sending a message to U.S. and Iraqi officials that their recent expressions of confidence in the nation's security were premature.

Last week, the U.S. military said civilian deaths in Baghdad were down 75 percent since June, when the last of 28,500 additional American troops deployed to Iraq this year arrived. The Iraqi government proclaimed that the drop in civilian deaths and bombings indicated that Baghdad had emerged from its sectarian war.

Yesterday's attack seemed particularly brutal because it took advantage of civilians' trust in the quieter atmosphere.

Decreased violence had led the government in mid-September to end a ban on vehicular traffic on Fridays, the Muslim day of rest. The prohibition had kept most Iraqis at home on the weekend and left destinations such as the Ghazel pet market and livestock market struggling to survive.

That changed once the Friday curfew was relaxed. The pet bazaar in particular, with its exotic birds, tanks of colorful fish, monkeys, cats, dogs, goats and other creatures became a popular spot for shoppers and mere strollers.

Adnan Mohammed, who runs a tool shop across the street, was chatting with friends when the explosion, heard for miles around, went off about 9 a.m.

"All of us were feeling happy for the security and the busy market today, as it affects our livelihood," Mohammed said.

After the blast, he said, smoke poured from the marketplace, and bloodied survivors staggered from the scene. Frightened animals scattered, and canaries, pigeons, and other birds released from their destroyed cages flew into the smoky sky.

Casualty figures from police ranged from 13 to 15 dead. The exact number could not be determined. At least 56 people were wounded, authorities said.

Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta Moussawi, an Iraqi security force spokesman, said the bomb was packed with screws and nails to make it more deadly. He said that the bombers apparently entered via a narrow side passage.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but such attacks are the hallmark of Sunni Muslim insurgents.

It was the third time in less than a year that the Ghazel bazaar had been bombed, and the fourth attack on it since June 2006. The last bombing occurred in January, shortly before the Bush administration launched its new security plan to try to quell Iraq's bloodshed. As part of the troop buildup, the military surrounded many markets with concrete blast barriers and checkpoints and limited vehicular access.

Market bombings declined drastically during the summer, and Friday's was believed to be the worst in Baghdad since the lifting of the Friday curfew. It followed an uptick in violence in the past week, marked by hits on targets that lately had escaped attack. They included mortar rounds fired into the Green Zone, the fortified enclave in Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy and most Iraqi government buildings.

The pet market blast was one of several bloody incidents across the country yesterday, including a bombing at a police checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul that killed nine people, six of them police officers.

South of Baghdad, near the city of Mussayib, a bomb exploded underneath a car near a mosque and killed at least two people, police Lt. Col. Mohammed Mahawili said.

Tina Susman and Raheem Salman write for the Los Angeles Times.

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