U.S. Blames Shiite Militiamen in Deadly Baghdad Bombing

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 25, 2007

BAGHDAD, Nov. 24 -- The U.S. military said Saturday that Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen were responsible for the bombing of a pet market, one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in months.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a military spokesman, said four captured fighters who confessed to the bombing were part of a cell that splintered from the Mahdi Army, the powerful Shiite militia led by Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric. Sadr had called on his fighters over the summer to lay down their arms.

"The group's purpose was to make it appear al-Qaeda in Iraq was responsible for the attack," Smith said, referring to the homegrown Sunni insurgent group that U.S. officials believe is led by foreigners. Their "aim was to demonstrate to Baghdadis the need for militia groups to continue providing for their security."

The Friday blast killed at least 15 people and shattered a growing sense of calm that had spread over Baghdad as violence began to decline. Smith said the carnage was caused by a bomb filled with ball bearings that was hidden inside a bird cage.

"This bombing demonstrates there remain individuals who continue to ignore Moqtada al-Sadr's pledge of a cease-fire," Smith said. "Iraq and coalition forces will continue to capture or kill those who choose to dishonor Moqtada al-Sadr by committing these acts of indiscriminate violence against innocent Iraqis."

Meanwhile, violence across Iraq left at least 19 people dead, an Interior Ministry official said.

In the northern, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Iraqi security forces launched a massive operation targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq members who fled there from nearby Diyala and Salahuddin provinces. More than 3,000 Iraqi police officers and soldiers were involved, according to the police chief, Maj. Gen. Jamal Taher Bakr.

A curfew was imposed in Kirkuk from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the city was closed to travelers. Residents were asked to remain in their homes during the operation, code-named Defying Eagle.

Other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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