BAGHDAD (AP) – An explosion outside an elementary school in a Shiite district of Baghdad killed at least eight people Monday, as Iraqi officials considered delaying national elections until at least February.
The blast occurred in the Shiite district of Sadr City, where large-scale attacks have been infrequent because of tight security by U.S. and Iraqi forces as a well as the neighborhood’s own guards. Police and witnesses gave conflicting information about whether the blast was caused by a bomb, a rocket or an exploding weapons cache.
Among the dead were six children between the ages of 6 and 12, and 41 people were wounded, said officials from the police and Interior Ministry. Twenty-five children were among the wounded, two hospital officials said. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
The blast partially toppled a brick wall in front of the school, leaving a crater that quickly filled with muddy water, apparently from a broken water line.
Inside at least one classroom, windows were blasted out and shards of glass were strewn over desks. Blood stained the wooden desks and books. Many backpacks were tossed about the room.
Sadr City is home to an estimated 2.5 million Shiites and is a stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In 2008, Shiite militants there poured rocket fire onto the Green Zone during the last major fighting in the city. Al-Sadr’s order to his militia fighters to cease fire has been cited by the U.S. military as a key factor in a steep drop in violence nationwide, along with a U.S. troop buildup and a Sunni revolt against Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Iraqi and U.S. military officials have expressed concern about a possible new rise in attacks aimed at destabilizing the government before next year’s elections.
Arguments between lawmakers held up passage of an election law until just before a midnight Sunday deadline, and election commission officials will likely recommend a 45-day delay in elections until Feb. 27. There are concerns a postponement could complicate the planned U.S. withdrawal of combat troops. Months of wrangling over a new election law brought planning for national balloting to a standstill. At the center of the dispute were demands by Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi for a greater political voice for minority Sunni Arabs and changes in the distribution of seats in Iraq’s expanded 325-seat parliament. The vote was to originally scheduled for Jan. 16. A new date of Feb. 27 appeared to have the most support from Iraq’s election commission after Monday’s discussions, though other dates remained on the table, said Qassim al-Aboudi, a senior election commission official. He said the commission would make a recommendation as early as Monday afternoon to the president’s office, which must approve any change in election dates. As the political deliberations have dragged on, insurgents have continued to target Iraqi security forces and civilians.
On Monday, gunmen stormed a checkpoint near Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad, killing five members of an anti-Al-Qaeda group, police said. The men were members of the Sunni Awakening Council, ex- fighters who turned against the insurgent group and joined forces with the U.S. A roadside bomb killed one soldier and wounded two others in southeastern Baghdad, and in the west of the capital, a bomb attached to a vehicle killed one civilian, police said.