BAGHDAD (AP) – Family members on Friday mourned victims of a twin bombing in a packed Baghdad shopping district that killed at least 68 people and wounded 120, a grim reminder that Iraq’s violence has slackened but not abated.
Funerals were held in the primarily Shiite, middle-class Baghdad neighborhood of Karradah, the area where the back-to-back bombings took place. Cleaning crews swept the debris and blood off the site of the blasts in the shopping and residential district. Shop owners inspected the damage. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack Thursday. But the U.S. military blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq.
“This was definitely AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and we know who the cell leader is. He and his dogs are all targets,” said military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Stover. Double bombings to maximize casualties has been a hallmark al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is responsible for killing thousands of people with such attacks. As happened in previous bombings, the tactic seeks to draw in the people with the first blast, especially security, medical workers and other first responders, before a second bomb detonates.
Iraqis were enjoying a pleasant spring evening when a roadside bomb hidden under a vendor stall detonated in Karradah. Five minutes later, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt detonated, Mohammed al-Rubaie, the head of the Karradah municipality, told the state-run Al-Iraqiya TV.
Interior Ministry officials said Friday 68 people were killed and 120 injured after several people died from their injuries overnight. An Associated Press count from officials at five hospitals showed at least 67 dead and 119 injured. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Hassan Abdullah, who owns a clothing shop in the area, said he was walking to the site of the first blast to see what happened when the second bomb went off. “I saw a leg and a hand falling near me as I was walking. The whole place was a mess. Wounded people were crying for help, and people started to run away,” said Abdullah, 25. “The aim of such attacks is the random killing of as many people as possible in order to terrorize Iraqi people.” Many of the victims were teens or young adults, officials said.
At one funeral Friday, family members mourned the death of a 17-year-old Christian man. Several young men carried his wooden coffin out of his family’s home and carried it down the street as family members walked behind. “I lost my son. It breaks my heart,” said the man’s father.
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, condemned the attack Friday, calling it a “horrible crime.” “This crime reveals the rooted hatred of terrorists against the Iraqi people,” a statement from his office said.
Violence has dropped substantially in Baghdad over the last half-year with the boost in U.S. troops, a cease-fire by a powerful Shiite militia, and many Sunni fighters turning against al-Qaeda in Iraq. But multiple killings are still a daily occurrence.
A Bush administration official told the AP last week that Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, will ask for a pause to assess the military situation in Iraq after the currently planned drawdown of U.S. troops concludes in mid-July.
The idea will be to assess whether the security gains made in recent months can be maintained with lower troop levels. Although violence is down, about 700 Iraqis have been killed per month since November.
In a separate bombing Friday, an extremist attacked a police station in the northern city of Mosul, driving his explosives-laden car through protective barriers before detonating it outside the station’s front gate, killing at least three and wounding 32, authorities said.
The U.S. military said two Iraqi police were killed and one civilian, and that 12 officers were among the wounded.
A local police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, put the death toll at four, all officers, and the wounded at 33.
Mosul is the focus of a joint U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to force al-Qaeda in Iraq out of what the military describes as its last major urban stronghold. Separately, a provincial police officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said twin bombings Friday morning near the home of a police office in central Mosul killed one person and injured 14 others seriously.