Baghdad Bombing Still Shaking Iraq

As Iraq marked the first anniversary of the Shiite Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra (according to the Muslim lunar calendar), the landmark event that plunged the country into a bitter and bloody civil war, a series of explosions rocked Baghdad on the Shiite east bank of the Tigris River, killing 97 people and wounding 186.

On Monday at 12.25 p.m. – at the end of a national 15-minute silence called by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to mark the solemn anniversary – the first of two car bombs ripped through the crowded Shorja market in central Baghdad, killing 88 people and wounding 165. One minute later, the second explosion set an eight-story warehouse ablaze and touched off a series of further explosions in a garage filled with cars. In the aftermath, the entire district was enveloped in thick clouds of black smoke that billowed 900 feet into the atmosphere.

About half an hour earlier, a bomb hidden in a bag exploded in the nearby area of Bab al-Sharqi, outside a popular falafel restaurant. Nine people were confirmed dead and 21 injured in that attack.

The bombings shook Baghdad as Prime Minister al-Maliki spoke on Iraqi television and warned that Iraq has no future unless the new US-backed strategy succeeds. As one blast after another sounded in the background, Mr Maliki continued with his address and urged Iraqis to call government hot lines or local police to report insurgents or militants so that the plan has the greatest chance of success.

A number of Iraqis interviewed in Baghdad on Monday told a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor that they hoped the new strategy would restore calm. “I hope this allows troops to capture all the criminals in the Sunni mosques or in the Shiite mosques,” said Feras al-Jabouri, a Sunni who lives in Amariyah, western Baghdad. He said insurgents and militants are easily identifiable to residents and he believes that shell-shocked Iraqis will finally be convinced to turn in the culprits.

Muthena Mohammed, a Shiite who lives in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of al-Bayaa, said he knows exactly who has attacked his house. “They are my neighbors,” he said. “Under the new plan, they should detain these people so that I can go back to my home, go back to my job, to continue my work. If I go back to my home and the terrorists or insurgents or my neighbors are there and I find them, I will kill them because this is a revenge case.”

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, urged followers to refrain from being drawn into the vicious cycle of violence, as he commemorated the anniversary of the Samarra bombing. “We call on the believers as they mark this sad occasion and express their feelings … to exercise maximum levels of restraint and not to do or say anything which would harm our Sunni brothers who are innocent for what happened and who do not accept it,” said Mr Sistani.

The latest bloodshed comes days after Gen. David Petraeus assumed control as the new US commander in Iraq. He has said that the task of US forces will be to help improve security so that the Iraqi government can resolve its political issues, rebuild the economy and improve basic services. “These tasks are achievable. This mission is doable,” he said.

Gen. Petraeus also warned that Iraq is “doomed to continued violence and civil strife” if American and Iraqi forces do not succeed in the counterinsurgency strategy. “We will have to share the burdens and move forward together,” he said. “If we can do that and if we can help the people of Iraq, the prospects of success are good.”

It is not clear how much progress is being made on political and economic reforms needed to achieve a lasting peace in Iraq. However, Mr al-Maliki’s new willingness to crack down on Shiite militants as well as Sunni insurgents does enhance the ability of troops in the new military strategy to temporarily quell the violence in Baghdad.

“I will apply the law to everyone … on militias, political parties, on participants in the political process,” he told CNN in a recent interview. “The law rules, and who is on my side in respecting the law and the government’s will be an ally and a partner, and who rebels against the law and the government’s will be a foe.”

* * * * *

Monday’s attacks were followed by a deadly truck bombing on Tuesday. Witnesses said that a suicide bomber drove a small blue Kia truck packed with explosives into cars parked outside the Trade Ministry, where local residents obtain food rationing cards, and then blew himself up killing 15 people and wounding 27.

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