Suicide blast targets Army Day celebration in Iraq

January 07, 2008|By Kimi Yoshino and Raheem Salman | Kimi Yoshino and Raheem Salman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- Moments after jubilant Iraqi troops were captured on videotape yesterday shouting, "Where is terrorism now?" a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest, killing at least three soldiers celebrating Army Day.

It was the first of three deadly attacks in Baghdad during the day, all within about an hour. The bombings killed at least eight people and injured dozens, although some estimates put the death toll as high as 15.

Despite an overall decline in violence in recent months, several high-profile bombings recently have rocked the city. On Dec. 28, a suicide bomber struck Tayaran Square, a popular outdoor marketplace, killing 10 people. On New Year's Day, a bomber infiltrated a funeral, killing at least 34 people.

Like the funeral attack, yesterday's blasts struck on a national holiday. Iraqi soldiers celebrated in cities across the country, waving flags and guns, and marching in parades commemorating the army's formation in 1921.

Yesterday's most serious bombing occurred about 12:30 p.m. in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karradah as Iraqi military, government and tribal leaders gathered for Army Day ceremonies.

The suicide bomber set off the explosives strapped to his vest when three soldiers tried to stop him from entering the offices of the Organization of Iraqi Unity, police and U.S. military officials said.

Television crews on hand to cover the Army Day celebration captured the chaotic scene with shaky cameras as civilians ducked for cover and soldiers dragged away bodies of dead or injured soldiers.

Iraqi officials said four of their soldiers died in the attack. The U.S. military said at least three Iraqi soldiers and two civilians were killed. Other estimates putting the death toll as high as 11 people, with 17 injured. The discrepancies between the reports could not be immediately resolved.

Abu Anmar, 35, said he was welcoming people to the event when he heard fighting and screaming.

"I ran outside to be astonished by a big ball of fire and a large explosion just outside the building," Anmar, a secular Kurd, said from a hospital, where he was being treated for a shoulder injury and facial burns.

"The next thing I know, fire was all over the place," he said. "I saw policemen and army men laying dead on the ground and burning bodies that were turning black."

Twenty minutes later, a second bomb exploded in front of a popular restaurant in the Qahira neighborhood of northern Baghdad, killing three civilians and injuring 15 others.

A short time later, a series of car bombs struck car lots in central Baghdad. At least one person died and four others were injured as three bombs exploded, one after another, at intervals of five to seven minutes, witnesses said. Police discovered and detonated a fourth bomb.

Despite the attack at the Army Day gathering, celebrations around the country continued mostly as planned. Only one, inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, was canceled because of security concerns, said Ministry of Defense spokesman Mohammed Askari.

Also yesterday, gunmen in two cars shot down one of the leaders of a volunteer group helping to provide security in the Shaab neighborhood of northern Baghdad. Police said the killing occurred as the tribal sheik, Ismail Abbas, was driving away from his home.

In the northern city of Mosul, four bombs exploded in quick succession, all targeting churches. No one was reported killed, although four people suffered injuries.

The U.S. military reported that a soldier was killed yesterday when a bomb detonated near his vehicle during combat operations in southern Baghdad. As of yesterday, at least 3,910 U.S. service members have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

Kimi Yoshino and Raheem Salman write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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