Bombings Kill at Least 66 in Iraq; Hussein Is Hospitalized After Fast

By Andy Mosher and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 24, 2006

BAGHDAD, July 23 -- The start of a new week in war-torn Iraq closely resembled the worst days of the previous week, as two bombs in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood and a massive charge hidden in a car in the northern city of Kirkuk killed a total of at least 66 Iraqis on Sunday, police and military officials said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said former president Saddam Hussein had been hospitalized since Saturday after showing signs of ill health from a hunger strike now in its third week.

Hussein, 69, who is being tried on charges of crimes against humanity, was in stable condition, Iraqi and U.S. spokesmen said. There were conflicting accounts, however, about whether he was being force-fed and whether he and his lawyers would be in court when his trial is scheduled to resume Monday.

The intense violence that made last week one of the deadliest of the year in Iraq resumed Sunday morning when two bombs exploded in Sadr City, a huge slum populated mostly by impoverished Shiite Muslims.

The first was a car bomb that detonated at 9:30 a.m. in Sadr City's Jamila district, on a busy traffic circle where a popular open market and a police station are situated. An Interior Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Raad Muhammad, said the bomb killed 48 people -- six of them police officers, most of the rest day laborers waiting for work -- and wounded 65. The Defense Ministry reported 34 dead and 73 wounded.

A few minutes later, a roadside bomb went off in the same area, killing eight civilians and wounding 20, the Defense Ministry said.

Three weeks ago, a car bomb at a market in the same area killed about 60 people.

Sadr City is one of the principal strongholds of the Shiite movement led by Moqtada al-Sadr, a radical cleric whose Mahdi Army militia is widely accused of engineering much of Iraq's current wave of sectarian killing. Iraqi troops and their American advisers raided a Sadr City neighborhood before dawn Sunday in a bid to capture men accused of participating in death squads. After an exchange of gunfire, the soldiers detained eight suspected insurgents and freed two hostages, the U.S. military said in a statement.

A spokesman for Sadr, Sahib al-Amiry, condemned the raid and the bombings, which he called "evidence that the Iraqi government is incapable. This is evidence that the Iraqi government is weak." Amiry accused Hussein supporters and Sunni insurgents of being "behind the creation of this sectarian strife for the interest of the occupation."

In Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed and perpetually tense oil center 160 miles north of Baghdad, a massive car bomb near a courthouse killed 24 civilians and set fire to a broad section of the city center. Kirkuk police Col. Adnan Muhammad called the midday attack the bloodiest incident in the city since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

The bomb, fashioned from more than a ton of explosives and several mines and detonated by remote control, ignited an inferno that continued to burn into the evening. Television news footage showed a mass of thick, black smoke engulfing blocks of small, mostly wooden shops.

More than 50 seriously burned people were rushed to hospitals in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah because of a shortage of blood and anesthetic at Kirkuk's health facilities, Muhammad said.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, stopping briefly in London en route to meetings in the United States this week, directed that compensation be paid to the families of the victims in Sadr City and Kirkuk.

Hussein started his hunger strike July 7 to demand better security for his lawyers, three of whom have been shot dead since his trial opened in October. Hussein, who has been imprisoned at an undisclosed location since his capture by U.S. forces in December 2003, has said he will not eat solid food until their safety is assured.

One of his attorneys, Bushra al-Khalil, said Sunday in the Syrian capital of Damascus that Hussein had been drinking liquids and eating honey during the strike. In an interview aired on al-Iraqiya television, Khalil said she had been told that Hussein was in good health, and she accused U.S. and Iraqi authorities of hospitalizing him so that he could be forced to eat.

"We want him to attend trial tomorrow, because we are afraid there is a conspiracy on his life," she said.

Raeed Juhi, the chief investigative judge, said doctors had assured him that the former dictator "is stable and fine." Juhi said he expected Hussein to be in court Monday.

But the chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Moussawi, told the Reuters news agency that Hussein had been force-fed and "will not be able to attend the session tomorrow." And Khalil Dulaimi, another member of Hussein's defense team, told Reuters that client and lawyers would continue to boycott the trial regardless of Hussein's condition.

Special correspondents Nasser Mehdawi and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.

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