Tuesday, February 13, 2007

4 Blasts Kill 78 In Iraq Markets

4 Blasts Kill 78 In Iraq Markets
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By DAMIEN CAVE The New York Times

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - Four back-to-back explosions at two markets in central Baghdad killed at least 78 people and wounded 155 Monday, charring drivers in their cars, shredding shops and setting ablaze a seven-story building full of clothing stores that burned for more than six hours, witnesses and officials said.

The blasts - three at Shorja market, the capital's largest bazaar, and one at Bab al-Sharji a few blocks away - struck shortly after Iraq's Shiite-led government marked the anniversary, by the Islamic calendar, of an attack last year that destroyed a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra. That bombing, which shattered the shrine's golden dome, set off a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq that has yet to be extinguished.

Monday's attacks, given their timing and severity, seemed designed to fuel the country's sectarian hatreds and upstage the new U.S.-Iraqi security plan for Baghdad.

One thunderous explosion could be heard in the middle of an upbeat outdoor news conference on security in Iraq given by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the Green Zone, roughly two miles from the markets. He did not flinch or address the sound. "I'm very hopeful that the Iraqis will work together to support the Iraqi security forces and police" - boom! - "who are in charge of the operation," he said.

The bombings only underscored the challenge he faces in trying to inspire public confidence as sectarian violence continues.

The Shorja attack was at least the fifth there since August.

It came on a day when the Iraqi High Tribunal ruled that Saddam Hussein's former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan should follow his former boss to the gallows within several weeks, despite objections from U.S. officials who fear that another hanging so soon after Saddam's would undermine the credibility of al-Maliki's government.

The High Tribunal initially sentenced Ramadan to life in prison for his role in the killing of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail in 1982, but an appeals court in December sent the case back, directing that he be executed.

At the Shorja market, where a roadside bomb, a car bomb and a truck bomb blew up just after noon, people directed their anger at Sunni insurgents, who have frequently taken credit for similar attacks.

Ali Hassan Flayha, a merchant from the market who saw the blasts, said the insurgents wanted only destruction, to stop daily life, kill as many people as possible and keep the public angry at the Iraqi and U.S. governments.

"The insurgents won't let us do our work," he said. "They are shooting at us, kidnapping our workers, starting fires, just to keep us away from the market."

Bloodied bodies have become a familiar sight, he said, but government protection has not.

"The goal of the insurgents is to show us that the government is weak," he said. "We understand. They're right."

Witnesses said that one of the bombs at the Shorja market was concealed in a pickup truck that parked outside the Abu Hanifa building, a seven-story concrete structure with shops and restaurants on the first floor and wholesale clothing businesses filling the rest of the structure.

The explosion set the building on fire, witnesses said, trapping workers amid mannequins and clothing that burned like kindling and belched out smoke.

On the diplomatic front, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed U.S. accusations that Iran was arming Shiite militants in Iraq, saying Iran was opposed to "any kind of conflict" in Iraq.

"Our position for Iraq is very clear," he told ABC's "Good Morning America." "We are asking for peace, we are asking for security, and we will be sad to see people get killed, no matter who they are."

On Sunday, U.S. officials in Iraq showed journalists weapons they said had been made by Iranian factories and had been used to kill 170 Americans in the past three years. They accused Iran's leaders of authorizing the smuggling of such weapons into Iraq.

Ahmadinejad refused to address the accusation directly, but he rejected the charges by saying the Americans were trying to find a scapegoat for their problems in Iraq.

"I think that Americans have made a mistake in Iraq and unfortunately are losing, and this is a shame for Americans of course, and that's why they are trying to point their fingers to other people, and pointing fingers to others will not solve the problem," he said.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, was more direct in denying the accusations. He called the charges baseless and said the evidence had been fabricated.

"Such accusations cannot be relied upon or be presented as evidence," he said. "The United States has a long history of fabricating evidence. Such charges are unacceptable."

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