Blasts Kill at Least 72 in Baghdad

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006; 7:40 AM

BAGHDAD, Sept. 1 -- A string of closely timed explosions killed at least 72 people and wounded 236 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 death toll included 16 children, an Iraqi police official said Friday.

The booming explosions rang out within minutes of each other around 6:30 p.m. in the city's New Baghdad district. Interior ministry officials said Friday that they believed the blasts were caused by 12 to 18 rockets and a new type of highly flammable explosive. It was not clear whether the attack included car bombs and mortars as well.

The blasts struck the Nuairiya and Baladiyat neighborhoods. One senior Interior Ministry official said the attackers had rented homes in the 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. At least three people were killed, and seven wounded, initial reports said. 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, at 12:45 p.m., a explosion that may have been from a car bomb detonated at a long gas line in New Baghdad. At least seven people were killed, and 18 wounded, 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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