Iraq: Death, Bombings, Civil War and Chaos Continues – Meltdown

Iraq skid precariously close to full-blown civil war yesterday as the death toll climbed to 202 following the bombings of three crowded markets in the Shi’ite neighborhood of Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad. A further 250 people were reportedly injured. The car bombings, believed to be the work of al Qaeda, were preceded by a three-hour siege of the Shi’ite-controlled Health Ministry in central Baghdad.

At approximately 12:15 pm, a group of 30 men believed to be from a local Sunni militia fired on the building of the Health Ministry with machine guns and mortars. The brazen attack lasted for three hours and only ended when US troops and Iraqi security forces arrived to stop it.

Then at 3:10 pm, the first of three car bombs ripped through the popular Jamila market in Sadr City, quickly followed by explosions at al-Hay market and al-Shahidein Square, during the markets’ busiest time of day, to cause maximum carnage. This marked the single bloodiest day of the US occupation.

The co-ordinated bombings in Sadr City seem to represent a new phase in Iraq’s complex internal turmoil, and are certainly designed to provoke retaliation. For more than two years, al Qaeda has been radicalizing local Sunni militias while exploiting the fears of minority Sunni Arabs that they will not get a fair deal politically from the US-friendly Shi’ite majority government and that they will be decimated by Iran-backed Shi’ite militias as soon as the US occupation ends. Al Qaeda has repeatedly insisted that the only viable path for Sunni Arabs in Iraq is to seize power through military victory.

In February 2006, al Qaeda’s bombing of al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest sites in Shi’a Islam, destroyed the mosque and ignited the current wave of sectarian conflict between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. Iraqi leaders are now convinced that al Qaeda is also behind the car bombings in Sadr City

“It is clear al Qaeda did this. It is their way to attack innocent people. There are no governmental buildings, no army bases, no security forces attacked. The victims were only innocent civilians,” said Abdul Karim Khalaf, Iraq’s Interior Ministry spokesman. “These attacks aim to destroy Iraq and the political process.”

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki condemned the violence and “the dark hand of conspiracy that is shedding the blood of the innocent”. He vowed to bring those responsible to justice and imposed an absolute and indefinite curfew in Baghdad, lifted on Friday only for Shi’ites undertaking the journey to the holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, to bury their dead. The Prime Minister further closed the airport in Baghdad to all commercial flights; the Shi’ite-controlled oil port at Basra also shut down in sympathy.

Prominent Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurd leaders in Iraq joined together to appeal for calm. Moqtada al-Sadr, local cleric and defacto ruler of Sadr City and the Mehdi Army, also publicly appealed for restraint and unity among Iraqis.

Yet angry Shi’ites had already begun to return fire, launching a barrage of mortars at the Abu Hanifa Mosque in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah in northeastern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding seven others.

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