At Least 26 Killed by Market Blast In Sadr City

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

BAGHDAD, Oct. 30 -- A bustling market in Baghdad's Sadr City became the capital's latest killing ground early Monday when a bomb hidden amid trash and clutter exploded in a fiery inferno, killing at least 26 people and wounding 60, a spokesman at Iraq's Interior Ministry said.

The explosion occurred about 7 a.m. at the busy Circle 55 intersection, a popular gathering point in the Shiite slum for construction laborers looking for a day's work. The blast spewed shards of metal, blew up three nearby cars and left a huge crater in the pavement.

U.S. and Iraqi forces had previously established a cordon around the teeming slum, which is controlled by the Mahdi Army militia, in an attempt to find a kidnapped U.S. soldier and a man known as Abu Deraa, who is considered Iraq's most notorious death squad leader.

Shiite leaders seized on that U.S. operation Monday to accuse the Americans of complicity in the market blast, saying that because they were in charge of searching all vehicles going in and out of the area, they must have allowed in the bomb that was detonated at the market.

"The entrances and exits in and out of Sadr City are still under the control of the Iraqi and occupation forces," said Mohammed al-Kaabi, a spokesman for Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army and head of a strong political bloc in Iraq's government. "Since the entrances to the city are in the hands of the Americans, they let it in and slaughtered the people."

Some residents of Sadr City, home to 2.5 million Shiites, also blamed U.S. forces for the carnage, saying that the search for the missing soldier -- which began six days ago -- has forced the Mahdi Army underground, weakening the area's defenses. But this week, some Mahdi Army members were visible with weapons on the streets.

A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, denied that coalition forces were responsible for the explosion, saying it occurred "despite our security efforts."

Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported the deaths of one Marine on Friday and another Sunday in Anbar province. On Monday, a member of the 89th Military Police Brigade was killed in the eastern part of the capital, a soldier was killed by small-arms fire in west Baghdad and a soldier was killed by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad. So far, 103 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq this month, making October the deadliest month for American forces since January 2005, when 107 troops were killed.

Across the country, at least 81 Iraqis were killed Monday, according to an Associated Press count.

At least 12 people were killed and 41 were wounded in five car bombings in the capital, and three were killed and six injured in two roadside bombings there, according to local police, Interior Ministry officials and wire service reports.

Elsewhere in Iraq, at least 21 people were killed in bombings and other violence, including three people who died when a suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt walked into a local police headquarters in the northern city of Kirkuk and detonated himself, according to Kirkuk police Capt. Emad Khider. He said a 5-year-old girl was among those killed in the blast. Ten people were injured.

Correspondent Ellen Knickmeyer in Baghdad, special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Washington Post staff in Kirkuk contributed to this report.

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