Death Toll Rises to 100 in Suicide Blast in Iraq
Relatives Seek Missing After Attack That Took Shiite and Sunni Lives

By Andy Mosher and Saad Sarhan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 18, 2005

BAGHDAD, July 17 -- The death toll in Saturday night's suicide bombing in the southern Iraqi town of Musayyib reached 100, a local physician said Sunday, as mourners wailed over the loss of their loved ones and anxious relatives of the missing sought signs that they were alive.

Humam Saif, a physician at Musayyib General Hospital, said that with more than 150 wounded spread among area hospitals, the number of dead was likely to rise.

Witnesses to the bombing, which occurred about 8:30 p.m. Saturday in the center of Musayyib, a town 35 miles south of Baghdad, said the attacker had detonated his explosive belt in a crowded marketplace, where hundreds of people had come to shop and mingle after the day's stifling heat subsided. They said the explosion erupted just as a tanker containing cooking gas was passing, triggering an inferno that destroyed dozens of buildings, including a nearby Shiite mosque where worshipers were emerging from evening prayers.

Their accounts contradicted earlier police reports that the bomber had been inside the mosque. Police acknowledged Sunday that the initial reports were inaccurate.

Also, three U.S. soldiers were killed over the weekend, including one on Sunday when a homemade bomb exploded in central Iraq, the Associated Press reported.

Jasim Hadi, 37, came to the Musayyib hospital Sunday to look for his brother and two cousins who had not been seen since the explosion. He found one cousin in a hospital bed, wounded, and the other in the morgue. Pounding his head, he cried: "It was not just a terrorist operation, it was a brutal operation."

A mixed Shiite-Sunni town in Babil province's so-called Triangle of Death, Musayyib was devastated by the attack. In addition to the mosque, more than 150 shops were destroyed, along with 24 cars and 13 government vehicles, including police vehicles and firetrucks, officials said.

The human devastation was just as broad, touching both sides of Islam's sectarian divide. "Anyone who does such evil acts against the innocent people does not have any religion or humanity," said Othman Alwani, 48, a Sunni Muslim. "The suicide bomber who targeted this area, where there were no occupation or Iraqi forces, wanted to target the innocent Sunnis and Shiites."

Meanwhile, a suicide bombing 15 miles south of Baghdad on Sunday killed 11 people and wounded nine, according to Capt. Muthanna Ahmed, a spokesman for the Babil province police. Ahmed said a car bomber trailing a U.S. military convoy near the town of Mahmudiyah triggered his payload just as two minibuses were passing. All of the casualties were in the minibuses, he said.

Sarhan reported from Najaf.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company