By Joshua Partlow and Zaid Sabah
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
BAGHDAD, Jan. 1 -- By the time he reached the front gate of his neighbor's house, just minutes after the blast, Adil Ahmed saw flames leaping off the funeral tent. The guests' cars parked outside were blasted and burned. Some of the mourners were screaming with grief and rage, and many others were scattered on the ground, dead or dying.
The chemistry professor recalled bending down to one man who had saliva running down his chin. He pumped his chest and breathed into his mouth, again and again, in a vain attempt to save him.
He ran to other, less seriously injured men, and helped drag or carry them to cars waiting to rush them to the hospital. He noticed that some of the dead were still sitting upright in the burning tent on their plastic chairs. After an hour of this, his clothes were messy with blood.
"I failed," Ahmed said. "I couldn't help them."
The suicide bombing in Baghdad's Zayouna neighborhood Tuesday was one of the deadliest blasts in the capital in months. It occurred as many Baghdad residents are saying they feel more secure and express hope that the worst is behind them, even as they acknowledge that random attacks will continue.
The explosion killed at least 25 people and wounded 20 others, according to the U.S. military. Iraqi police and ambulance officials told news services that the death toll was at least 32.
The year closed with levels of overall violence far lower than when it opened, although the number of suicide bombings has been rising in the past two months.
The target Tuesday was a crowd that had gathered to mourn Nabil al-Azzawi, a victim of a car bombing four days before. A teacher, he was one of at least seven people killed Friday at the crowded intersection at Tayaran Square, according to neighbors and an Iraqi official.
The Azzawis are a Sunni Muslim family, neighbors said, with relatives in Diyala province, where some of Iraq's worst violence has occurred. On Tuesday, the family was hosting the third and final day of the funeral service in a tent in the garden, located at the house of the brother of the deceased man in a Zayouna enclave known as Officer's City, a relatively peaceful part of eastern Baghdad.
An Iraqi army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qasim Ata' Zahil, blamed the attack on the Diyala network of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. Authorities here nearly always blame suicide bombings on the al-Qaeda in Iraq group, because the tactic is not generally used by other militant groups.
Zahil said the funeral took place at the home of Muataz al-Azzawi, a former brigadier general in the Iraqi police who subsequently worked at the police sports club.
The bomber was a man known by the relatives of the deceased, Zahil said. "When the suicide bomber got inside the funeral, he shook hands with everybody," he said. "When he arrived at Muataz, he blew himself up."
As often happens, other witnesses gave varying accounts. A cook at the funeral said he believed that there were two bombs and that the explosives had been smuggled into the funeral under the long robes of two strangers whom he greeted as they came in, according to a senior Iraqi Interior Ministry official who had spoken to the cook.
Whatever the details, neighbors who rushed to the house found a scene of shocking carnage. The windows of the house were shattered, and smoke billowed from the burning tent.
"I saw a lot of bodies," said Raad al-Jumaidi, who lives nearby. "Some of them were injured and still alive, hardly breathing. We were taking the injured out. We pulled out a body without a head. I know him. He lives on the next street over."
"We thought Zayouna and Baghdad had become safer, but it will never be," said Samar Muhammad, 33, a neighborhood resident.
Such attacks had become noticeably rarer in Baghdad starting this past summer, before violence rose again as the year neared an end. Tuesday's attack was the deadliest since 15 people died in an animal market Nov. 23.
The general fall-off in violence has coincided with the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers in Iraq. This December, about 600 Iraqi civilians were killed, down from 3,000 in December 2006, according to U.S. military figures.
The number of American soldiers killed has also fallen sharply during the past six months. In December, 23 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq, according to http://icasualties.org, a site that tracks military fatalities. That is the second-lowest monthly total in nearly five years of war.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. military said that an Apache helicopter firing Hellfire missiles and guns killed nine suspected insurgents during an operation Monday targeting al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters in Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad. This area became a focus last year in the U.S. offensive known as the surge because it had no Iraqi security forces and was therefore frequently used by insurgents to plan and execute attacks.
Special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.