Mortar Attack Kills 32 In Mostly Shiite Iraqi City

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 22, 2006

BAGHDAD, Oct. 21 -- Mortar rounds fired by suspected Sunni Arab insurgents rained on a market crowded with shoppers Saturday, killing 32 Iraqis in a predominantly Shiite city south of Baghdad, hospital officials said.

Three Marines were killed in attacks in the western province of Anbar, making October the deadliest month for U.S. forces in a year. Seventy-eight American troops have died this month in Iraq, the highest monthly toll since 84 U.S. troops were killed in November 2005.

The deaths are part of rising violence that has pushed attacks on Iraqi civilians and troops to wartime highs. The U.S. military said this week that attacks on American forces had increased 22 percent this month.

The attack on the market in Mahmudiyah, about 15 miles south of Baghdad, came days before the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr. The market was crowded with families buying food for the holiday, said Farhan Ali, a member of Mahmudiyah's City Council.

Members of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, also were in the open-air market when the attack occurred, said Salih Mohammed, 33, who owns a food stand there. Several of the militiamen were among the dead, Mohammed said.

At least 53 people were wounded, said Abdul Abdul Rahman Khalid al Maadihi, a doctor.

A previously unknown Sunni insurgent group in Mahmudiyah, calling itself the Jihadist Soldiers, asserted responsibility for the assault, saying in a statement posted in a mosque in the center of the city that Shiite families and the Mahdi Army militia had a week to leave the city.

Sunni families hid in their homes after the attack, fearing retaliation, Mohammed said.

At least 21 other Iraqis died Saturday in attacks across the country, including seven people killed in a bus bombing in Baghdad.

The unrelenting bloodshed came despite the signing of an accord by Sunni and Shiite religious leaders late Friday in Mecca, Islam's holiest city. Organizers of the meeting described it as an effort to stop sectarian killings. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad issued a statement welcoming the accord and urging Iraqis to do "everything possible to stop the killing of the innocent."

Meanwhile, a senior State Department official said the United States had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq. Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, also said the United States would talk with any group except al-Qaeda in Iraq to facilitate national reconciliation.

"We tried to do our best, but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," he said in an interview with al-Jazeera television aired late Saturday.

Other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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