Bombers Defy Security Push, Killing at Least 158 in Baghdad

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

BAGHDAD, April 18 -- Bombs ripped through several mainly Shiite districts in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least 158 people and wounding scores more, police said, in the worst wave of carnage since President Bush announced three months ago that he would deploy additional troops to pacify the Iraqi capital.

In the gravest attack, a car bomb killed at least 118 people across from the busy Sadriya market, a shopping area that the U.S. military closed to traffic and fortified with blast walls after a truck bomb killed 135 people at the market in February, in the single deadliest explosion since the war began in 2003.

The attacks followed brazen bombings that demonstrated the insurgents' ability to circumvent the U.S. and Iraqi security plan for Baghdad, and renewed fears of reprisal killings by Shiites. Last Thursday, a truck bomb collapsed a popular bridge over the Tigris River and a suicide bomber penetrated the fortresslike Green Zone, blowing himself up inside the parliament cafeteria, killing one lawmaker.

"After two months of the security plan in the hot areas of the city, the attacks have moved to the cold, quiet areas to make them hot, while the hot areas burn," said Nasar al-Rubaie, a lawmaker who heads the parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "These target everything that has life in Iraq: universities, schools, neighborhood centers, markets, gas stations and bus stations. But the occupation forces and the government stand still, doing nothing, and let the terrorists play."

Across Iraq, at least 10 other people were killed in bombings and shootings, and 58 bullet-riddled corpses were found, police and news services reported, bringing the day's death toll to nearly 230.

In Washington, Adm. William J. Fallon, the new chief of the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters responsible for the Middle East, gave a more pessimistic assessment of the situation in Baghdad than other senior officers have offered in recent days. "I believe that the things that I see on a daily basis give me some cause for optimism, but I'll tell you that there's hardly a week that goes by -- certainly almost a day that doesn't go by -- without some major event that also causes us to lose some ground," Fallon told the House Armed Services Committee.

Traveling in Israel, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates blamed the Baghdad attacks on Sunni insurgents, including the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, and said U.S. commanders had warned that terrorists would "attempt to increase the violence in order to make the plan a failure." But he said U.S. and Iraqi forces would "persist."

While execution-style killings have dropped since the security crackdown began, bombings have remained steady. Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, defended the plan Wednesday, saying it was too soon to assess its results because only 60 percent of the 28,000 additional troops deployed by President Bush are in place. Garver said two additional brigades will arrive in early June to help suppress the violence by shutting bomb factories and killing militants.

But he acknowledged that the military "runs the risk of losing" popular support in the face of continued massive attacks, and said the military was concerned that Wednesday's attacks could trigger a new outbreak of sectarian bloodshed.

Gates told reporters that "we can only hope that the Shia will have the confidence in their government and in the coalition, that we will go after the people that perpetrated this horror."

The Sadriya market bombing devastated a central Baghdad intersection filled with buses and taxis near a famed Sunni shrine. It left a crater six feet deep, engulfed minibuses and cars in flames and shattered the windows of nearby buildings. People ran about frantically, screaming the names of lost relatives.

Sabri Hassan Ali, 36, was in front of his soft drink shop when the bomb exploded about 10 yards away. He saw it blow off the head of a man nearby.

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