Baghdad Is Shaken by a Series of Bombs
BAGHDAD - A series of bombs went off in Baghdad on Wednesday, extending a period of violence that has rattled Iraq's government and security forces.
The pattern of Wednesday's attacks - including three car bombs in predominantly Shiite areas and two at a Sunni mosque - raised fresh concern that sectarian passions could be inflamed anew.
Accounts of the death toll varied, from at least 17 people to as many as 48, with dozens wounded. So far in April, at least 300 Iraqis have been killed in bombing attacks, making it the bloodiest month since the start of the year and reversing the sharp drops in civilian deaths in January and February.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has blamed Sunni insurgents and members of Saddam Hussein's ousted Baath Party for the recent violence, including four suicide bombings last week that killed almost 160 people, mostly Shiites. Mr. Maliki is torn between demands from the United States and some Sunni leaders to reconcile with some former members of the Hussein government and his Shiite partners, who reject an accommodation.
In the deadliest attacks on Wednesday, two car bombs went off in the Muraidi market in the impoverished Shiite district of Sadr City. The first went off around 4:30 p.m., a peak shopping hour, in a section of the market where live birds are sold. About 10 minutes later, a second exploded in front of a popular ice cream and juice shop in the market.
Iraqi forces sealed off the area, but struggled to disperse angry crowds by firing their weapons into the air for almost an hour. Witnesses said some of those who lost loved ones in the attacks threw bricks and rocks at the soldiers, whom they blamed for security lapses in the area.
Two hospitals in Sadr City, Imam Ali and Shaheed al-Sadr, said the car bombings killed at least 10 people and wounded 63. But a security official with the Interior Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the attacks with reporters, said the market bombings killed 41 people and wounded 68.
Gen. Aboud Gambar, head of the Iraqi military's Baghdad operations command, told state-owned television Al Iraqiya that three other car bombs were intercepted before they detonated.
Almost 30 minutes after the Sadr City attacks, a roadside bomb exploded in the path of a minibus on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, killing five of its occupants and wounding eight, the Interior Ministry official said.
Around 6 p.m., a car bomb went off in another market in the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Shurta Rabia in southwestern Baghdad, wounding five, the official said.
Later in the evening, two car bombs exploded in front of the Nida Allah Sunni mosque in the predominantly Shiite district of Huriya in northwestern Baghdad, killing at least two and wounding eight, he said.
In Sadr City, some residents blamed the Baathists and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown group that American intelligence officials say is led by foreigners, for the violence, while others said it was the work of American intelligence officers and the Baathists to put pressure on Mr. Maliki's government to relent on his refusal to reconcile with the Baathists.
"Islamist Shiites will never accept the return of the Baathists or America's schemes," said Mohammed Ali, 44, of Sadr City.
Abdullah al-Hilfi, 38, said the bombings were "a gift" from Baathists to commemorate Mr. Hussein's birthday, which was Tuesday.
Both wanted the militia of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, to resume its role in securing markets and neighborhoods.
Mohammed Hassan Dhari, 45, was simply tired of it all. "I want a solution," he said. "We are tired. We need solutions."
Despite the varying theories about who might have been behind the bombings, almost everyone agreed that Iraqi forces were either unable or too corrupt and infiltrated with militants to take control of the security situation.
At Imam Ali Hospital, some of the wounded said soldiers in Sadr City received bribes in return for relaxing vehicle searches at checkpoints.
"We fear things are getting out of control," warned Ahmed al-Massoudi, a Shiite member of Parliament from the bloc of Mr. Sadr.
On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said, "Iraq has 29 million people and there is no force in the whole world, security apparatus or anyone from Adam's time until now that can dedicate one cop to every single Iraqi."
Atheer Kakan contributed reporting.