By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 27, 2009
BAGHDAD, March 26 -- There was a numbed moment Thursday, the interregnum between an attack and its carnage. Then the anger unfurled, as survivors took stock of a car rigged with explosives that had detonated in a market crowded with women and children in northern Baghdad, killing 16 people and wounding dozens more.
"All of this is your fault!" Sgt. Ali Abbas, one of the policemen who arrived at the scene, recalled women shouting at him and his colleagues.
Amid the panic of survivors and the screams of the wounded, elderly women threw sandals at them, he said. Others spat at the police officers and shouted insults.
"Why all these problems?" a woman named Um Ali shouted as she walked down the street hours later. "We're celebrating there are no explosions and now they're back?"
She screamed to no one in particular. "Why did they come back?"
There was a similar bombing in August 2003 in the same neighborhood, known as Shaab. Then, it was American soldiers who were the first to arrive after a car bomb shattered windows as far as 100 yards from the explosion. Blood smeared the pavement and soaked the littered ground. Store signs hung askew, shards of plaster and concrete dangled and electrical wire was twisted in a web ordered by destruction.
His face sweaty, a teenager glared at an American soldier passing him.
"Where were you, mister?" he asked in Arabic.
The soldier, not understanding, looked straight ahead.
On Thursday, Abbas and his colleagues understood what was directed at them.
"They have a right," the sergeant said. "Something like this happens and where's the government? Where are the security forces? They have the right."
Anger directed at Iraqi security forces is not unprecedented, and in places like Abu Ghraib and Dora, it has sometimes born a sectarian bent. But Thursday's outburst was in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood, directed against predominantly Shiite security forces. It also illustrated the task ahead as security forces are forced to assume more and more responsibility. Although far more popular than the U.S. soldiers they replace, the goodwill they enjoy can last only as long as security they provide.
Residents said a driver had left a yellow Renault parked along a street lined with shops and stalls. They said the man walked away with a limp and five minutes later, one small explosion was heard, then the devastating blast.
"Everything seemed to fall down around our heads -- rubble, shrapnel, everything," said Naama Sabr, a butcher whose shop was across the street. "What was left? The dead were dead, the wounded were wounded and the rest managed to live."
The Interior Ministry said 16 people were killed and 40 wounded. Police said most of the victims were women and children, shopping at the market's busiest time.
The aftermath of Thursday's bombing was a scene of interrupted lives: Burned clothes and a baby's white sandal sat in a pool of blood, alongside overturned carts of apples, oranges, strawberries and watermelons. A pile of walnuts spilled into a patch of red-stained asphalt. Part of the charred car hung from electricity wires and broken glass washed across the pavement. Fabric sat smoldering under an election poster that read, "The solution is in your hands."
Police said a child's severed hands and a woman's scalp were strewn in the street.
Standing with his colleagues as residents cleaned the street, Abbas, the sergeant, teared up.
"As long as there is vengeance against you and vengeance against me, as long as there's blood between us, this isn't going to end," he said. "This isn't going to finish. Even if the government drafted half the people into the army and police, it won't end."
Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said Wednesday that violence in the country had dropped to the lowest level since August 2003. Two years ago, at the height of the violence, Perkins said there were about 1,250 attacks per week across the country; lately, the number has been approximately 100, he said.
"The enemy is unable to maintain a high rate of attacks," the general said at a news conference. "They don't have the resources."
While perhaps true, Thursday's bombing was the fourth major attack in Baghdad and its outskirts this month, illustrating the resilient ability of insurgents to carry out devastating strikes in some of the country's most dangerous regions -- parts of Baghdad and its outskirts, Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, and the region around the northern city of Mosul. Some police and Interior Ministry officials have warned that Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents are reorganizing in parts of Baghdad and its outskirts and in Basra.
"They're all waiting for the Americans to leave," Abbas said.
Staff writer Ernesto Londoño and correspondent Qais Mizher contributed to this report.