Bombs Kill 70 In Iraqi Capital

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BAGHDAD, Feb. 12 -- In Najaf on Monday, thousands of Shiite Muslim worshipers marched and chanted for peace, marking the one-year anniversary of the destruction of a sacred shrine that sent Iraq sliding toward civil war.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who asked his nation to take time to remember that destructive day, stood outside his Baghdad office and observed a moment of silence.

At the strike of noon, mosques overlooking Baghdad's oldest market rang out with a plaintive call of commemoration: "God is greatest."

Minutes later, four bombs detonated in the bustling Shorja bazaar, where many Shiites shop, killing at least 70 people, wounding more than 120, and engulfing buildings in flames and black smoke that billowed over the city for hours.

For residents of Baghdad, the deadly attack came as a devastating reminder of the state of crisis that worsened dramatically when the golden-domed mosque of Samarra was blasted into rubble one year ago, by the Islamic lunar calendar. It was also a dismal reminder that attacks on civilian targets, primarily Shiite gathering spots, continue despite heightened efforts of U.S. and Iraqi forces to restore order in the capital.

In the past month, bombs in heavily Shiite areas of Baghdad have torn through fruit stands and clothing stalls in the nearby al-Sadriya and Bab al-Sherji markets, slaughtered students at Mustansiriya University, and killed people and animals at a popular open-air pet bazaar -- for a death toll of more than 400 people.

"These terrorist attacks, they're not a challenge to the regime as a whole, but they give a very, very powerful perception that the government cannot protect the people, and this is very dangerous," said Haider al-Ebaidi, a Shiite member of parliament.

Officials of the Shiite-led government have attributed the attacks to Sunni Muslim insurgents, usually assigning blame to "taqfiris," or extremist conservative Muslims; "Saddamists," secular loyalists of the late former president Saddam Hussein; and increasingly to foreign fighters entering Iraq to join the anti-American insurgency. Iraqi officials say attacks against Shiites are intended to threaten the government and spark reprisal killings such as those that characterized the aftermath of the Samarra shrine bombing, when marauding gunmen began executing Sunnis by the dozens every day.

"They want to apply mass pressure on the government. It is psychological warfare that they are conducting," said Mohammed Naji Mohammed, a lawmaker from the largest Shiite bloc in parliament. "Since they consider the government a Shiite government, even though it's a national unity government, this is why they are conducting those mass attacks."

Since the bombing in Samarra, the violence here has become more complicated, and less easily understood as acts of sectarian revenge.

A recently issued National Intelligence Estimate notes a complexity beyond civil war that "includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence."

In a day-long battle late last month, U.S. and Iraqi forces killed 263 militants that Iraqi officials said were members of a Shiite-led cult intent on killing the country's Shiite religious leadership. U.S. officials on Sunday displayed what they said was evidence that Iran's government is supplying Shiite militias with weapons and explosives.

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