Attacks Across Baghdad Leave At Least 48 Dead, Scores Injured

By Ernesto Londoño and Qais Mizher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 30, 2009

BAGHDAD, April 29 -- Five car bombs and a roadside bomb exploded in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least 48 people, the latest in a series of attacks that appear designed to discredit Iraq's security forces as the U.S. military starts to withdraw from urban areas.

The day's deadliest strikes came in Sadr City, a vast Shiite district in eastern Baghdad, at approximately 4 p.m. when three car bombs detonated in quick succession, killing at least 41 people and wounding more than 60, Iraqi police officials said.

They were by far the worst attacks in Sadr City since last May, when the Iraqi army wrested control of the teeming, impoverished district, which had previously been governed and secured by clerics and militias. The deployment of government security forces there was hailed as a key turning point because militias had used it as a staging ground for attacks on the heavily protected Green Zone.

Wednesday's attacks could prompt militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to take up arms to defend their neighborhoods, which many have been eager to do since he imposed a cease-fire in the fall of 2007. The attacks are also likely to exacerbate sectarian tension; they are reminiscent of bombings in 2006 and 2007 that prompted Shiite militias to kill and displace Sunnis from their homes.

The vehicles were parked at the Muraidi market, located on the western side of Sadr City. The first to explode, a silver sedan, caused most of the casualties. Survivors scurried for cover behind blast walls, making the two remaining bombs largely ineffective, an Iraqi police official said. Iraqi police said they defused three more car bombs in Sadr City shortly after the blasts.

Sadr City resident Ahmed Yusif said residents had been suspicious of one of the vehicles.

"We told the Iraqi soldiers when they patrolled there and it exploded minutes after they left," he said, standing next to a mangled bicycle that belonged to a child wounded in the attack.

As Iraqi soldiers approached the market after the attack, residents threw rocks and empty bottles at their trucks, prompting the troops to shoot in the air to disperse the crowd.

The attacks followed a series of suicide bombings last week that killed more than 160 people in predominantly Shiite districts. Civilian casualties have risen every month this year, according to an Associated Press tally. At least 352 Iraqis died violently this month, up from 335 in March, 283 in February and 242 in January.

The Iraqi government has blamed Sunni insurgents and members of the Baath Party for the recent attacks.

Ahmed al-Masudi, a lawmaker who serves as the Sadr bloc spokesman in parliament, offered a different theory, saying he suspected the recent bloodbath is the work of Sunni extremists aided by Western intelligence agencies that want to create a pretext to delay the U.S. withdrawal.

"I think they have a hand in this to create reasons to stay," he said in a telephone interview.

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