Bomb Attacks Across Baghdad Leave 22 Dead, Dozens Wounded as U.S. Pullback Nears

By Ernesto Londoño and Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BAGHDAD, June 22 -- A series of explosions across Baghdad on Monday left at least 22 people dead and dozens wounded, heightening fear among residents and Iraqi leaders of a resurgence of violence on the eve of the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from urban areas.

The deadliest attack occurred in the Abu Ghraib district, on the western outskirts of the capital, shortly before noon when a suicide bomber attempted to ram a car packed with explosives into a local council building where a meeting was underway.

The blast killed seven Iraqis and wounded 10 people, including three American soldiers, Iraqi officials said. Maj. David Shoupe, a U.S. military spokesman, said the assailant struck a civilian vehicle before reaching the building. A U.S. military vehicle parked outside the building sustained damage, he said.

The other attacks, all roadside bombings, occurred in Karrada, in central Baghdad; Shaab, in northeast Baghdad; Husseiniyah in northeast Baghdad; and Hubaibiya, in the eastern part of the capital, Iraqi officials said. At least 83 people were wounded in the blasts, Iraqi officials said.

The attacks came two days after a massive truck bombing near Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, the deadliest attack in the country this year. At least 70 people were killed in the explosion, which targeted a residential area south of Kirkuk.

Most U.S. troops are expected to withdraw from urban bases and outposts by June 30. Although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said his forces are ready to assume control, some residents and Iraqi commanders are predicting mayhem sparked by groups that are waiting for the U.S. withdrawal before stepping up their attacks.

"The battle hasn't ended yet," said Col. Risen Rahim, a battalion commander in western Baghdad who lost two soldiers last week in combat. "We still have sleeper cells."

After June 30, most U.S. combat troops do not expect to be able to venture out of their bases unless Iraqi security forces ask them for help on specific missions.

Wael Abdel Latif, an independent Shiite Muslim lawmaker, said three factors are driving the recent violence: the imminent withdrawal of American soldiers from urban areas; growing tension between the parliament and Maliki's cabinet as the legislative body demands more oversight; and the regrouping of Sunni Muslim extremist groups who want to undermine the government.

"Of course I am worried," Latif said. "The so-called resistance and other militants want to use the crisis between the parliament and the cabinet to prove that the political process hasn't succeeded in Iraq and that they are the alternative."

Shatha al-Ouboussi, a Sunni lawmaker, said extremists are likely stepping up attacks to make a statement on the eve of the June 30 deadline.

"This is a message to everybody that the security situation can deteriorate as soon as the U.S. forces withdraw," he said. "They want to say that we are here and we are capable of carrying out attacks."

Salim Abdalla, another Sunni lawmaker, said he was pessimistic about the months ahead.

"The situation is very worrisome and there is nothing reassuring," he said. "The withdrawal from cities does not and should not mean that U.S. troops no longer have a responsibility over security. They still have obligations toward Iraq and its people."

Special correspondent Zaid Sabah contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company