Car bomb strikes Baghdad market

June 17, 2008 11:30:39 AM PDT
A car bomb tore through a market area in a mainly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing more than 50 people and wounding dozens, officials said, the deadliest such attack in more than three months. The attack occurred just before 6 p.m. as the market in the northwestern Hurriyah neighborhood was packed with shoppers preparing for their evening meals.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, which is known to use car bombs and suicide attacks.

A soft drink vendor who witnessed the blast, Kamil Jassim, said the car that exploded was parked near a two-story building with shops on the bottom floor and apartments on top. He said a nearby generator caught on fire, partially collapsing the building and burning several other houses.

The casualty toll spiked to at least 51 people killed and 75 people wounded after rescue crews extinguished the blaze and found the bodies of dozens of victims who had been trapped inside or buried in the rubble, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

Most of those killed were burned to death or suffocated, he added.

The blast shattered the relative calm in the capital amid stepped up security measures. American commanders have consistently said they have al-Qaida in Iraq on the run but warned that the insurgents retain the ability to stage high-profile attacks.

Haider Fadhil, a 25-year-old metal worker, said he was shopping with his two friends when the force of the blast tossed him through the air and knocked him out.

"When I regained consciousness, I found that my left hand and leg were broken," he said from his hospital bed. "Thanks be to God for saving me and thanks to those who carried me in their pickup truck to the hospital."

Tuesday's attack was the deadliest car bombing since March 6, when a twin bombing killed 68 people in a crowded shopping district in the central Baghdad district of Karradah.

It occurred on the same day the Iraqi parliament announced it will start holding sessions outside the U.S.-protected Green Zone in the fall - the latest bid by Iraqi authorities to bolster public confidence in the security gains and assert their independence.

The 275-member legislative body currently meets in a heavily guarded convention center inside the Green Zone, a sprawling maze of concrete barriers and checkpoints in central Baghdad.

Deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Attiyah told lawmakers they will move to the Saddam Hussein-era parliament building for the next legislative term, which is due to begin on Sept. 1.

The National Assembly building that was used by the Iraqi parliament under Saddam is in the Allawi district, about 500 yards away from the blast walls that form the perimeter of the Green Zone on the west side of the Tigris River.

It was looted and burned in the chaos that followed the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces in April 2003. But al-Attiyah said its reconstruction has been completed.

"There is progress in the security situation and the reconstruction has been completed of the new building," al-Attiyah said.

The Green Zone, which also houses the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government's headquarters, is one of the main symbols of the continued American presence more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam.

Iraqi legislators hold sessions in a former convention center amid tight security that was reinforced after a suicide bomber slipped through the checkpoints and blew himself up in the building's cafeteria, killing a lawmaker, on April 12, 2007.

The relocation itself, however, was meant to be temporary until a new compound for the parliament can be built, al-Attiyah added. His adviser, Wissam al-Zubaidi, also said the parliament planned to shorten its two-month break that was due to start in July and adjourn only for the month of August.

The legislative body has come under past criticism for failing to take advantage of the decline in violence to make sufficient progress on U.S.-backed legislation aimed at promoting national reconciliation among Iraq's divided Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government has been trying to assure a fearful public that recent security gains can be maintained and has launched a series of offensives aimed at clamping control on some of the most violent areas in Iraq.

It also is in talks with the Bush administration over a long-term agreement to replace the U.N. mandate for U.S.-led forces that expires at the end of this year.

In other violence Tuesday, an Iraqi state TV reporter was shot to death near his apartment in the northern city of Mosul, police said.

Colleagues said the slain journalist - 50-year-old Muhieddin Abdul-Hamid - was a local anchor for the station in Mosul, the center of an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi operation against the most prominent remaining stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq, a Sunni extremist group.

Excluding Abdul-Hamid's death, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 129 journalists and 50 media support workers have been killed since the war started.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle also struck a Baghdad checkpoint manned by U.S.-allied fighters Tuesday, killing one and wounding four, in the latest attack targeting Sunni groups that have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Another suicide car bomber struck a police checkpoint in central Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding 19 other people.

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Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin, Hamid Ahmed and Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.

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