Blasts Kill at Least 66 in Baghdad

Iraqi army soldiers examine the wreckage of a car used as a bomb in Baghdad. Two policemen were wounded in the attack.
Iraqi army soldiers examine the wreckage of a car used as a bomb in Baghdad. Two policemen were wounded in the attack. (By Hadi Mizban -- Associated Press)
By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006

BAGHDAD, Aug. 31 -- A string of closely timed explosions killed at least 66 people and wounded 255 in a Shiite Muslim area of Baghdad on Thursday night, one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in months despite the launch of a new security plan to stanch the sectarian carnage.

The blasts flattened a multistory apartment building, buried women and children under mounds of rubble and sent terrified shoppers fleeing out of a major bazaar, authorities and witnesses said. The booming explosions rang out within minutes of each other around 6:30 p.m. in the city's New Baghdad district, but it was not immediately clear what caused them.

Witnesses and police said some combination of rockets, mortars and car bombs caused the bloodshed. Gen. Jassem Khider of the Interior Ministry said that six rockets in the Nuairiya section of New Baghdad killed 48 people and injured 160, primarily women and children, and that 18 were killed and 92 injured by three rocket attacks on multifamily homes in the Baladiyat neighborhood.

But another senior Interior Ministry official said the attackers had instead rented homes in heavily populated neighborhoods, planted large amounts of explosives within the buildings and then detonated them.

"This is a new terrorist invention," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The terrorist insurgents have found a new way of killing people."

Abu Zayneb, a 65-year-old landlord, recalled finding more than 20 corpses after an explosion on his block in the Baladiyat neighborhood shattered windows and blew off doors in his apartment building. At 10:20 p.m., he remained outside his home because he feared his building would collapse. The structure hit hardest by the blast was a three-story apartment building with 12 families that sits next to an Internet cafe that is usually packed at the hour the attack began.

"These are bad times," Zayneb said as he sat outside in the dark with his wife and relatives.

About five minutes after the attack on the apartment building, there was an explosion three blocks away between a primary school and a fire station in Baladiyat, said Abu Samar, 42, a taxi driver. Police Col. Hassan Jaloub said the blast was a car bomb that killed three police officers and wounded seven. Five minutes after that attack, an explosion took place about a mile and a half away at a restaurant called the Arabian House, Abu Samar said.

At almost exactly the same time, witnesses said, several missiles or mortar shells slammed into the area around a huge market in the Nuairiya section of New Baghdad. The shelling completely collapsed a multistory apartment complex and also struck a nearby parking garage, residents said. Members of the Mahdi Army, the militia of the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, were seen rescuing residents from the rubble.

Earlier in the day, a car bomb exploded in a long gas line in New Baghdad at 12:45 p.m., killing seven people and wounding 18, police Col. Abdul Razaq Mahmoud said.

The violence in the capital coincided with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's statement Thursday that Iraqi forces were prepared to take control of the southern province of Dhi Qar in September from the U.S. military and its allies. It would be the second province in which Iraqis have taken full control of security; the British handed over Muthanna province in July.

"We hope that by the end of the year, our security forces will take over most of the Iraqi provinces," Maliki said in a televised news conference.

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