Bombings kill 57, hurt 280

Female attackers target pilgrims in Baghdad, protesters in Kirkuk

July 29, 2008|By Caesar Ahmed and Ned Parker | Caesar Ahmed and Ned Parker,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD - Female bombers killed at least 57 people and wounded 280 in three attacks yesterday on Shiite pilgrims marching in Baghdad and a fourth on a Kurdish demonstration in Kirkuk.

Twenty-five people were killed in Kirkuk and 178 wounded when a woman blew herself up, police and medical sources said. At least 32 people died and 102 were wounded in Baghdad in attacks by three female bombers.

The bloodshed shattered a period that had seen a four-year low in Iraq violence. The decrease in attacks had prompted senior U.S. officials in Iraq to describe Sunni militants as a spent force no longer capable of toppling Iraq's Shiite-led government. The attacks yesterday proved a reminder of how raw Iraq's ethnic and sectarian divisions remain and showcased the ability of extremists to cause damage.

In northern Iraq, a woman detonated a suicide vest at a Kurdish demonstration in Kirkuk, where Kurdish ambitions to annex the oil-rich territory to their semiautonomous northern region have sparked the ire of the area's Arabs and Turkmen. The fight for Kirkuk has threatened to derail local elections around the country as the sides have feuded in parliament over the city's future and stalled the passage of an election law.

About 3,000 demonstrators were protesting efforts to strip the Kurds of power in Kirkuk when the bomb exploded. The blast prompted Kurdish demonstrators to attack the nearby office of the Turkmen Front, according to the party. One civilian was killed in the rioting, police said.

The bombing and ensuing melee provided a glimpse of the passions aroused by the dispute over the future boundaries of Iraq's Arab north and its Kurdistan region.

In Baghdad, three female suicide bombers blew themselves up in rapid succession yesterday morning, killing Shiite pilgrims on their way to a shrine in the capital. At least 1 million Shiites were expected in the capital for the event commemorating the death in 799 of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim, a Shiite saint believed to have been poisoned in prison by the Islamic world's caliph.

The bombings occurred in the Karrada district, a prosperous commercial area in eastern Baghdad. Shiite pilgrim Wissam Abdullah had been following a group of women dressed in billowing robes when an explosion threw him down, wounding his leg.

"The government should have prepared for such an event, as they happen repeatedly," Abdullah said at a Baghdad hospital.

Iraqi security forces had hired 200 women to search females around the city, knowing that al-Qaida in Iraq and other groups have increasingly turned to female suicide bombers to evade checkpoints and carry out attacks. But with up to 1 million pedestrians flooding the streets and the haphazard searches on the roads, it proved impossible to search every woman.

Many were stunned, thinking the bombings on Shiite holidays were a thing of the past. Ahmad Musawi, 28, started walking from southeastern Baghdad after sunrise and brought female members of his family, thinking Baghdad was no longer dangerous.

"The explosions were against the innocent people who are not carrying any weapon," he said. "When will this end?

"The government failed in securing the pilgrims, so why they did not let us protect ourselves? We would have done better job than they did," Musawi said.

In 2005, nearly 1,000 people were killed in the single deadliest incident of the war when rumors of a suicide bomber triggered a stampede among pilgrims crossing a bridge to the al-Kadhim shrine for the event marking his death.

Yesterday, a woman walking amid a crowd close to the National Theater building, blew herself up, killing 10 and wounding 15, said an Iraqi army officer as he lifted a baby into an ambulance. Flip-flops and slippers of the dead were gathered into a pile.

Police officers interviewed at the scene said that the authorities had heard that six women would blow themselves up in the area.

"We can't search women," complained Atheer Allawi, a police officer. "They are wearing abayas, and God knows what they can hide under them."

The second attack occurred in a tent that provided shade and rest for female marchers. The female bomber walked into the tent, sat down and, according to a police official, Abu Ali, read the Quran with women sitting inside. She left the tent, leaving a bag that exploded moments later, killing one and injuring four.

The third Karrada bomb struck between two traffic checkpoints, killing at least 13 and injuring 15. Nails from the attacker's suicide vest were embedded in the road.

"This was part of her belt," said an Iraqi police lieutenant, nudging a bent nail with his shoe.

He said the woman had turned off the main street where the pilgrims were marching, after the earlier blasts caused soldiers and police to conduct more frequent searches. He said she was thought to be the leader of the group.

The violence did not deter the marchers, who continued down one of Baghdad's main thoroughfares toward the Kadhim shrine, waving green flags, and with Shiite religious songs blaring from loudspeakers.

Caesar Ahmed and Ned Parker write for the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times contributed to this article.

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