BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – A suicide bomber targeting poor labourers killed 60 people in Baghdad on Tuesday hours before President George W. Bush was to review his unpopular Iraq policy in a video teleconference with U.S. military commanders in Iraq.
Interior Ministry sources said 221 people were wounded in the blast after the bomber lured a crowd of day labourers to his vehicle with the promise of work.
The 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) attack took place in Tayaran Square, a popular gathering point for carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, painters and other workers who frequent the cafes and street vendors while waiting for the chance of some work. Many of the workers who gather at Tayran Square are poor Shi’ites. “A driver with a pickup truck stopped and asked for labourers. When they gathered around the car it exploded,” said a witness, who was helping a stumbling survivor with a blood-stained bandage covering his head. “They were poor labourers looking for work. The poor are supposed to be protected by the government,” he said.
Calling the attack a “horrible massacre”, Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed it on Saddam Hussein sympathisers and Sunni Islamist al Qaeda. “These terrorist groups are trying to spread chaos by killing and fuelling sectarian strife,” he said in a statement.
The explosion, which sent a cloud of black smoke into the sky, set many cars on fire. Gunfire sounded after the blast.
Iraq is gripped by tit-for-tat sectarian killings between majority Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs dominant under Saddam but now the backbone of the insurgency. Thousands have been killed in violence many Iraqis fear is pitching the country toward all-out civil war.
A new poll has shown that most Americans support a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops, putting Bush under strong pressure to shift course in Iraq, where 2,931 U.S. troops have died since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
A week after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group gave Bush 79 recommendations for changing direction in the unpopular Iraq war, Bush did not appear to be warming to some of its major conclusions as he prepared his own plan. He will hold a video teleconference on Tuesday with U.S. military commanders in Baghdad, then meet Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni. He visits the Pentagon on Wednesday.
The bipartisan report called for direct talks with Iran and Syria and for U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq by early 2008, but Bush has declined to embrace either recommendation. He has not ruled out a regional conference to help Iraq, involving Iran and Syria, but the White House indicated Iraq would have to set it up.
A new USA TODAY/Gallup poll published on Monday said 55 percent of the respondents wanted most U.S. troops withdrawn within a year, but only 18 percent believed that would happen.
A record high 62 percent said the war in Iraq was not “worth it,” and a record low 16 percent said the United States was winning, USA Today said.
Bush met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top officials at the State Department on Monday, with an eye to announcing a change of course to sceptical Americans next week.
Maliki, whose coalition government of Shi’ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds has failed to curb the violence, will hold a national reconciliation conference on Saturday, and has announced plans to call a meeting of Iraq’s neighbours.