Blast Kills at Least 25 in Long-Secure Baghdad Neighborhood

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By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 26 -- A car bomb tore through a crowded market in central Baghdad on Thursday evening, killing at least 25 people and injuring 110, police said.

A cloud of black smoke rose over much of the city after the explosion, which set a three-story apartment building on fire. Police said many of the victims were women shopping for food or clothing.

The explosion was the latest in a string of car bombs in Karrada, a largely Shiite district long considered one of Baghdad's safest neighborhoods. More than 50 people have been killed in seven car bomb attacks in the neighborhood this month. There was no significant violence in Karrada in June, police records show.

Since the war began, Karrada had been one of the few places in Baghdad to have escaped intense sectarian violence. Sunnis and Shiites driven out of other areas of the capital flocked to the neighborhood, willing to pay higher rents for the prospect of safety.

A sprawling set of streets with dozens of produce stalls, clothing stores and restaurants, Karrada is especially known for its jewelry stores, selling products from cheap costume bracelets to gold rings. Thursday afternoons are one of the busiest times in Karrada, as people finish their shopping before the midday curfew Friday, the Muslim holy day.

The sudden wave of attacks jarred many Baghdad residents, who had come to regard Karrada as a place where they could spend a leisurely few hours with relatively little fear. Police said they will increase patrols around the area, especially after the Iraqi soccer team plays in its first Asian Cup championship Sunday.

"I used to feel comfortable and secure when I went to Karrada," said Shaymaa Hassan, 24. "I liked to shop for clothes and shoes there. Now I don't go unless I have to."

Also Thursday, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq reiterated accusations that Iran is supporting Iraqi militias, telling reporters that insurgents are being trained in Iran to improve their skills in attacking U.S. and other targets in Iraq.

"In the last three months we have seen a significant improvement in the capability of mortarmen and rocketeers to provide accurate fire into the Green Zone and other places," said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, operational commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. The Green Zone is the fortified district that includes Iraqi government buildings and the U.S. Embassy. "We think this is directly related to training conducted inside Iran."

Iran denies that its operatives are providing money, weapons or training to Iraqi insurgents. Critics have said U.S. officials have provided no concrete evidence linking such support to Iran's leadership.

Odierno's comments came two days after the U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to Baghdad met to discuss the security situation. The two countries agreed to set up a security committee with Iraq but remained at odds over whether Iran is supporting insurgent groups.

Odierno also said that he has seen some encouraging results from the increased level of U.S. troops in Iraq, including a decrease in the number of military casualties in July, but added that it is too early to tell whether a five-month-old strategy to improve security is effective.

Through Thursday, 66 American troops had died in Iraq this month, the lowest figure since August 2006, according to iCasualties.org, an independent Web site that tracks military deaths. There were 101 U.S. troops killed in June, the group's figures show.

"We've started to see a slow but gradual reduction in casualties, and it continues in July," Odierno told reporters. "It's an initial positive sign, but I would argue we need a bit more time to make an assessment whether it's a true trend."

Six of the troops killed this month died in three incidents this week, the military announced Thursday. Three Marines and a sailor were killed in combat in Diyala province east of Baghdad on Tuesday, and a soldier died after a gun battle in Baghdad on Wednesday. Another Marine died Sunday in a noncombat incident, the military said.

Seven Iraqis were killed Thursday by a car bomb in the northern city of Kirkuk, police said. A roadside bomb killed five Iraqi police officers between Hilla and Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad.

Special correspondents Dalya Hassan and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.


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