Bombings Near Five Shiite Mosques Kill 29 in Baghdad

SOURCE: | The Washington Post - August 1, 2009
By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 1, 2009

BAGHDAD, July 31 -- Car bombs exploded near five Shiite Muslim mosques on Friday, killing at least 29 people in what appeared to be a coordinated attack that targeted worshipers during noon prayers, security officials said.

This was the bloodiest attack since two suicide bombers struck a northern Iraqi town with a sizable Shiite community earlier in July, killing 34 people. Nonetheless, July remains one of the least deadly months since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, with 306 Iraqis and seven American soldiers killed.

The explosions shattered a relative lull that had cast a veneer of normalcy over the country in recent weeks. Many troops manning checkpoints across Baghdad have eased restrictions on motorists, and officials announced a plan to remove all blast walls from the city by year's end.

The bombings, whose timing and targets appeared to demonstrate a degree of planning, exacerbated fears across Baghdad that insurgents might try to renew the sectarian bloodshed of 2006 and 2007 that brought the country to the verge of collapse. A month after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraqi cities, concerns remain over whether Iraqi forces are equipped to maintain security.

The most devastating attack Friday occurred in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Shaab when a car parked near a Shiite mosque exploded. The mosque was closed, but scores of worshipers had lined up on a street outside to pray when the explosives detonated. The blast killed 24 people and wounded 17, security and hospital officials said.

"People were on their knees praying when the bomb exploded," said Karrar Aziz, an 18-year-old who was at the scene. "And then, there were dead and injured lying down on the street and chaos everywhere."

Hours after the bombing, bloodstained prayer rugs and shoes were found scattered on the street. Residents pointed to what seemed to be the remains of the car that detonated, a yellow Peugeot. Others cleared away shards of glass that littered the ground. In a grim sign of how violence has become mundane in Iraq, children played amid the wreckage.

Iraqi soldiers stood nearby, and none of them took any steps to keep onlookers away.

Almost simultaneously, four other explosions shook the Baghdad neighborhoods of Kamaliyah in the east, Ilam in the southwest and Zafaraniyah in the southeast and the vicinity of the Jisr Diyala bridge in southern Baghdad, killing five people and injuring 34.

All four explosions occurred near Shiite mosques as worshipers gathered for noon prayers.

"I don't know what happened today. Things were fine in the past couple of weeks," said Salah Shehab, a 41-year-old resident of Al-Shaab. "But, anyway, explosions have become something ordinary here. We got used to them, and when there aren't any we wonder why."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken credit for the diminishing violence in the country. Maintaining calm could play a major role in determining his chances of reelection after parliamentary elections in January.

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