BAGHDAD, (Asharq Al-Awsat and Agencies) – A car bomb in a crowded shopping district in north Baghdad killed 16 people and wounded 35 others on Thursday, police said, the latest in a series of attacks to strike the Iraqi capital.
At least four children and three women were among the casualties from the blast next to a bus terminal in the mostly Shi’ite district of Shaab, near a popular market, they said.
On Wednesday U.S. and Iraqi security officials lauded a sharp drop in violence in Iraq, which they said was lower than any time since mid-2003, but insurgents have shown themselves still capable of launching high-profile attacks.
Persistent bombings highlight the challenges Iraqi security forces face as the United States prepares to withdraw all of its combat troops from the country by Aug. 31, 2010.
Bombing densely packed places to maximise casualties is a favourite tactic of al Qaeda, who have lost sway over swathes of Baghdad that they used to control but are seeking to show they are undefeated. No one claimed responsibility for the blast.
An attack on a Shi’ite area could also be an attempt by the Sunni Islamist group to reignite the sectarian bloodshed that nearly tore Iraq apart in 2006 and 2007.
On Monday, a bomb at a bus terminal in west Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib district killed nine people and wounded 23, and on March 10 a suicide bomber killed at least 28 people in the same area on the outskirts of the capital.
Also on Wednesday, Syria’s foreign minister said his country would be happy to help U.S. President Barack Obama implement his plan to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq.
“Syria is ready to offer whatever help is necessary” to make a success of the U.S. withdrawal plan, Walid al Muallem told journalists after meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during a visit to Baghdad. A government press release quoted the Iraqi Prime Minister saying, “At first, we were preoccupied with the security issue, but now we are working towards strengthening ties with our Arab brothers… We want to establish strong ties with them away from the politics of the past.”
The United States had not asked if it could withdraw troops through Syria, he told a joint news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.
Muallem’s friendly tone was a sign of the marked improvement in bilateral relations since Obama became president on Jan. 20.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called Obama “a man of his word” in an interview with an Italian newspaper last week and said he hoped to meet him.
Obama has been reviewing U.S. policy towards Syria and weighing up whether to return an ambassador to Damascus.
Earlier this month one of two envoys he sent there for exploratory talks said they had found “a lot of common ground.”
After widespread sectarian bloodshed in Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion, violence has dropped dramatically in the past year and foreign troops are preparing to leave.
“We believe the situation in Iraq is improving and we hope it will continue on this course and enable the Iraqi people to see the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, according to the timetable agreed upon,” Muallem said.
Muallem’s visit to Baghdad was his second since Nov. 2006, during which Syria re-established ties with Iraq that had been severed when Saddam Hussein took power.