By Joshua Partlow and Saad al-Izzi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
BAGHDAD, Aug. 1 -- A series of bombings and shootings, most of them targeting Iraqi soldiers and police, killed at least 44 people in Iraq on Tuesday in a new surge of violence against people charged with stabilizing the country.
The deadliest attack came about 10 a.m. when a roadside bomb exploded under a bus carrying Iraqi soldiers near the northern city of Baiji, killing 23 people and wounding 40 others, according to an Interior Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At about the same time in Karrada, an upscale commercial district in Baghdad, a suicide car bomber drove into a group of Iraqi soldiers and detonated his payload, an Iraqi police official said. That blast killed 13 people and wounded 26 others, according to the official.
The soldiers had blocked off part of a street in front of the Zuwiyah Bank, where they were collecting their monthly salaries. Any grouping of Iraqi security personnel has become a potential target for insurgent violence.
Smoke billowed up from the blast, which dug a crater in the street about 15 feet across and damaged at least six cars, some reduced to twisted, burned-out shells.
"It is a tragedy," said a retired military officer who gave only his nickname, Abu Mohammed, out of fear for his safety. "I lay down on the ground and remained there until everything was quiet again, while people were running and screaming."
[Early Wednesday, three roadside bombs exploded in central Baghdad near a group of laborers seeking work, killing three people and wounding nine, Reuters cited police sources as saying.]
In Tikrit, about 90 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. Army opened a hearing Tuesday to determine whether four American soldiers must stand trial in the deaths of three Iraqis during a raid in which the soldiers said they were under orders to "kill all military-age males," the Associated Press reported. Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Spec. William B. Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett and Spec. Juston R. Graber are accused of murder and other offenses in the May 9 deaths.
Tuesday's attacks came as Iraqi and U.S. officials are planning to add thousands more troops to Baghdad in an attempt to quell the violence. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government imposed a stricter security plan on the capital in June, involving more checkpoints and military patrols, but it has failed to stop the rampant sectarian bloodletting in the city.
Some Karrada residents criticized Iraqi security forces' tactics, saying soldiers and police are not aggressive enough and often passively watch the flow of traffic from their checkpoints rather than search vehicles.
"They are only standing and fanning themselves," said Saied Abbas al-Husseini, a Karrada resident.
The attack in Karrada was the third in recent days to break the relative calm of the predominantly Shiite Muslim neighborhood in central Baghdad.
On Thursday, a flurry of rocket and mortar attacks and at least one car bomb killed 31 people and wounded 135 in Karrada, according Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie. On Monday, gunmen dressed in camouflage kidnapped at least 26 people from an Iraqi-American trade organization and a cellphone shop in Karrada.
At a meeting of the Baghdad Provisional Council on Tuesday, Rubaie called on residents to provide more information about the activities of insurgents. The day after the rocket attack on Karrada, he said, residents offered tips that led to the killing of four suspected insurgents, including two women, who he said were Sunnis loyal to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
The attack "could have been avoided and those lives spared if the residents had provided the information in time to stop the terrorists," he said.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. military announced that a roadside bomb had exploded as a convoy passed south of Baghdad on Monday, killing one service member and wounding another. Another U.S. soldier died Tuesday during fighting in Anbar province. The military has not released the names of the service members.
Tuesday's violence also took the life of a correspondent for the Iranian television station al-Alaam, who was shot in the head and chest while sitting in his car in Baghdad's predominantly Sunni Amiriyah neighborhood, according to Capt. Walied Hassan of the Iraqi police. The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has posted Internet statements in the past threatening to punish the television station for perceived animosity toward Sunnis.
In southern Iraq, the governor of Najaf province said 45 people from his jurisdiction had been kidnapped on their way home from Syria. According to Gov. Asad Abu Gulal, a convoy of six sport-utility vehicles was hijacked as it passed near the insurgent hotbed of Ramadi. "We do not know what happened to them," he said. Gulal called on the Interior Ministry to establish a highway security force to guard against the kidnappings and killings that plague Iraqi travelers.
The radical Shiite cleric based in Najaf, Moqtada al-Sadr, on Tuesday urged his followers to turn out for a potentially violent gathering after this Friday's prayer services. Sadr, who controls the powerful Mahdi Army militia, said in a statement that he wants 1 million people to wear white shrouds, which signify martyrdom, and march on Baghdad in solidarity with insurgents and with Lebanese who face Israeli attacks.
"I know well what dangers surround demonstrations in our beloved Iraq, posed by those who are the enemies of God and Islam," Sadr said in his statement. "But our inevitable duty, and our love for martyrdom and death in the cause of God, is calling on us to support the righteousness and the people of righteousness."
Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf and other Washington Post staff in Baghdad contributed to this report.