Bomb Attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk Kill 3 U.S. Soldiers and 23 Iraqis

Bombers struck in Baghdad and a northern city Thursday, killing three American soldiers and nearly two dozen Iraqis in a new spasm of violence that has taken at least 66 lives in two days. Video by AP
By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 22, 2009

BAGHDAD, May 21 -- At least 23 Iraqis and three U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday in attacks in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk, shattering a brief calm here and illustrating still precarious security as U.S. forces begin withdrawing from Iraqi cities.

In the past months, Iraq has often been beset by a vexing cycle -- lulls in violence that sometimes last weeks, disrupted by bursts of carnage that have claimed hundreds of lives. But these days, anxiety seems to have grown deeper. Under an Iraqi-American agreement, U.S. troops must withdraw from cities by June 30, and many residents worry that violence will mount as they depart.

"If these attacks are taking place when they are still here, then imagine what would happen when they pull out," said Wissam Kareem, 34, a shop owner in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, standing within eyesight of the scene of a bombing.

In that attack, a suicide bomber set off an explosion about 11 a.m. near an office for a detachment of an American-backed paramilitary group, tearing through a market teeming with shoppers, Iraqi officials and residents said. Twelve Iraqis and the three Americans were killed.

Residents said the assailant was a mentally disabled man in his mid-20s who had often played video games with children from the neighborhood.

U.S. military officials said they could not confirm that the attack was a suicide bombing.

Moments after the explosion, vendors shut shops and restaurants and scores of people fled the area.

"Blood was all over the ground," said Raed Nizar, a street vendor. "The wounded were pleading with motorists who happened to drive by to take them to the hospital."

At least 25 people, including nine U.S. soldiers, were wounded.

U.S. officials have said some American troops might stay on in Baghdad and Mosul, a northern city that remains the country's most dangerous. But even in Baghdad, their presence is expected to diminish sharply, and many Iraqis say their own forces are not yet prepared to assume responsibility for security.

"It's better if the Americans stay here," said Omar Abdel-Karim, 23, a fighter with the American-backed militia known as Sahwa, or the Sons of Iraq, that still patrols the neighborhood. "If they leave, massacres are going to follow."

Residents have blamed the Iraqi forces for failing to stop attacks like Thursday's. The assailant, who was wearing an explosives belt, had apparently managed to pass through at least three checkpoints controlled by Iraqi police, commandos and Sahwa.

"Everybody was here," said Ahmad Falah, 19, a blacksmith. "How did they not catch him before he blew himself up?"

Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber killed at least eight members of the American-backed militia in Kirkuk as they waited outside an army station to get paid. It was the second time in the past few weeks that the group's members have been attacked as they were collecting their salaries.

A bomb also exploded next to a police station in western Baghdad, killing three policemen and wounding 19 others, police said.

The attacks came as the death toll from a car bombing Wednesday in a Shiite neighborhood of northern Baghdad rose to 40.

Special correspondent Dalya Hassan contributed to this report.

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