Car Blasts Kill Dozens in Baghdad

A 4-year-old Iraqi girl injured in a blast is consoled by her mother at a Baghdad hospital as her grandfather prays. As violence flared, politicians agreed to daily talks on a new government.
A 4-year-old Iraqi girl injured in a blast is consoled by her mother at a Baghdad hospital as her grandfather prays. As violence flared, politicians agreed to daily talks on a new government. (By Hadi Mizban -- Associated Press)
By John Ward Anderson and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 13, 2006

BAGHDAD, March 12 -- A series of powerful explosions ripped through a Shiite Muslim slum in Baghdad on Sunday evening, killing about 50 people and wounding more than 200, as top Iraqi politicians vowed to redouble efforts to form a national unity government and ease a recent surge in sectarian violence.

Official casualty tolls from three car bombings in eastern Baghdad's Sadr City were not available. Capt. Salman al-Nuaimi of the Interior Ministry said that 52 people were killed and 208 wounded in the attacks. He said police found a fourth car that was wired with explosives and defused it.

The Associated Press reported 41 dead and more than 140 injured. Many of the wounded suffered life-threatening injuries, officials said.

Hazim al-Araji, a spokesman for the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose followers maintain a large presence in Sadr City, said on al-Jazeera satellite television that 50 people had been killed and more than 295 injured in the explosions. He also said the blasts appeared to have been coordinated.

The series of attacks was the deadliest since the Feb. 22 bombing of the Shiites' revered Askariya mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad, unleashed days of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunni Arabs that left at least 1,000 people dead. Sunni leaders have said many of the deaths resulted from retaliatory attacks on Sunnis by Sadr's Mahdi Army, a well-armed militia that the U.S. military estimates has about 10,000 members.

Sadr's spokesman specifically attributed the violence Sunday to Sunni extremists and the U.S. military's three-year occupation of Iraq, not Sunni Arabs in general.

"We accuse Zarqawi, the occupation and the Baathist Saddamists," Araji said. He was referring to al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and to die-hard members of deposed president Saddam Hussein's Baath political party. "They have a big role in killing the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq."

Other attacks Sunday in and around Baghdad left at least 22 people dead and 32 wounded, according to police and other security officials.

Iraqi political leaders, meanwhile, agreed to expedite negotiations on forming a new national unity government that would include all the main political parties. Negotiations stalled in the sectarian violence that erupted after the Samarra mosque bombing and then deadlocked when Kurds and Sunnis demanded that the Shiites withdraw their nominee for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, saying he had not done enough to improve security or advance reconstruction during his year as transitional prime minister.

Jafari, who was nominated with Sadr's strong backing, has refused to withdraw, saying he was legitimately nominated by the United Iraqi Alliance, a 130-member Shiite coalition that has the largest bloc in Iraq's 275-member parliament.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, an influential Shiite leader, said top leaders from every faction had agreed to begin daily negotiations over all aspects of a future national unity government, including its leaders, cabinet posts, programs and policies.

In a sign of urgency, and to avoid conflicts with a Shiite holiday, the parties agreed to move up the opening day of parliament by three days, to this Thursday. It was previously scheduled for Sunday.

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