Bombings Kill 60 at University In Baghdad

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; 9:06 AM

BAGHDAD, Jan. 16 -- The coordinated detonation of two bombs during the after-school rush at a Baghdad university killed at least 60 people Tuesday and wounded more than 140 in what university officials described as one of the deadliest attacks on academia since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The spate of killings, which also included a bombing outside a Sunni Muslim shrine in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood of central Baghdad, made plain the difficulties facing U.S. and Iraqi troops poised for their latest effort to tamp down rampant violence in the capital. It coincided with a report from the United Nations that said 34,452 Iraqi civilians died violently last year -- an average of 94 per day -- an estimate nearly triple the death toll provided by three Iraqi government ministries.

Gianni Magazzeni, chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, said the killings were driven by strife between Sunni and Shiite militants. "Without significant progress in the rule of law, sectarian violence will continue indefinitely and eventually spiral out of control," he said.

News agencies reported that at least 30 other people died violently in Iraq on Tuesday, bringing the day's total to about 100. [On Wednesday, two more large-scale bombings were reported -- at a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk, and at a crowded market in Baghdad slum of Sadr City. Reuters said at least 23 people were killed, and dozen more were injured, in the two explosions.]

At Mustansiriya University on Tuesday, sophomore Dyana Ayad had finished her Arabic elocution test, then walked through the college gardens, turned right toward a pedestrian overpass and joined the crowd of students waiting for buses. The pressure filled her ears a split second before she heard the sound of a bomb.

"I saw unbelievable things," the 20-year-old recalled Tuesday night. "There were tiny pieces of papers, burned papers everywhere. And dark smoke, white smoke. . . . I saw arms, legs, body parts flying in the air. The sky was raining burning paper and body parts."

Firefighters and police sped to the scene of the wreckage, near Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad, doused the flaming cars and buses, and ferried bloodied students to hospitals throughout the city. Students ran in panic to find their friends, witnesses said, picking through what one student called "pieces of meat."

The university's assistant president, Fadhil al-Amri, found a human head on the ground outside his office, next to a severed hand.

"No matter what I say to you, it is nothing like what happened. It is terrible," Amri said. "The terrorists are walking the streets in larger numbers than the policemen or the soldiers in the army. They can't do anything. There is no safety in this country."

About 24,000 students attend state-run Mustansiriya University's three colleges, in a middle-class Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslim neighborhood. University officials said there was no obvious sectarian motive behind the attack. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed the bombings on supporters of deposed president Saddam Hussein. On Monday, two of Hussein's co-defendants were hanged for crimes against humanity; Hussein was executed Dec. 30.

"The followers of the ousted regime have been dealt a blow and their dreams buried forever," Maliki said in a statement. "So Saddamists and terrorists now target the world of knowledge and committed this act today against the innocent students of Mustansiriya University."

Insurgent Threats

In early December, the insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna distributed statements at mosques in western Baghdad, and on Web sites, calling on students and professors to cancel classes in preparation for a purge of Shiite militias from campuses. A Dec. 3 statement named Mustansiriya University as one of the schools that should be closed.

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