By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 10, 2009
BAGHDAD, July 9 -- Attacks in northern Iraq and Baghdad on Thursday left at least 50 people dead and many more wounded, raising fears about Iraqi forces' ability to maintain security after most U.S. combat troops withdrew from urban areas last week.
The attacks were the bloodiest since a powerful explosion tore through a busy market in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City in June, killing at least 75 people. On Wednesday, attacks in two Shiite towns in northern Iraq killed 14 people and wounded many others.
The violence has shattered a week-long lull that, however fleeting, had cast a veneer of normalcy over the country after the June 30 withdrawal. Iraq had marked the much-anticipated pullout with a national holiday.
But the nature of the attacks Wednesday and Thursday is likely to raise people's fears about further bloodshed. The bombings seem to be targeting Shiite Muslims, in what many worry is an attempt to renew the sectarian strife of 2006 and 2007 that brought the country to the verge of collapse.
There were no signs of Shiite retaliation so far, but angry residents of Sadr City inspecting the damage left by two improvised mines Thursday said it would only be a matter of time.
"They want to instigate strife, and the Shiites will not remain silent," said Kazem Zayer, a 30-year-old unemployed laborer. "They are killing us one after the other."
In the larger attack Thursday, two suicide bombers struck in the town of Tal Afar, near the Syrian border, killing 34 civilians and wounding 70, police and local officials said.
The first bomber managed to sneak inside the house of a counterterrorism officer and blew himself up, causing the home to collapse. The attack occurred in the al-Qala neighborhood, inhabited mostly by Shiites. When neighbors gathered to help the family trapped inside, the second bomber struck, increasing the bloodshed.
The head of the Tal Afar police, Col. Ali Hadi Obaid, said the bombers were disguised in police uniforms. He added that he had received intelligence reports that four suicide bombers had entered the town Wednesday night. Police were looking for the remaining two, and one of them was thought to be a woman, he said.
In Baghdad, an improvised road mine exploded near a market at about 7:30 a.m. in Sadr City. A minute later, another mine was detonated about 100 yards away. Seven were killed and 20 were injured, security and hospital officials said. Later in the day, two roadside bombs targeting a police patrol near a market in another Shiite area in northern Baghdad killed nine people and wounded 35, police said.
"They are testing our abilities and how to react to attacks after the U.S. withdrawal," said Gen. Hussein Kamal, an Interior Ministry official. "They want to reignite strife, and they want to understand how we work to be able to strike in the future."
In Tal Afar, as in Sadr City, people wondered how these explosions were carried out despite the strict measures imposed by security forces.
"Negligence by these forces caused this catastrophe," said Jaafer Teafari, 34, an unemployed laborer. "The Qala area is well protected, so how were the terrorists able to enter and strike?"
Attacks were also reported Thursday in Kirkuk, Mosul and Ramadi.
U.S combat troops completed their pullout from Iraqi cities on June 30 as part of a security agreement that took effect in January. The Obama administration has said it plans to withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by August 2010.
Special correspondents Dlovan Brawari and Qais Mizher contributed to this report.