Protests erupt after car bomb kills 48 in Baghdad

A flurry of morning bombs killed 10 people and wounded 34 around Baghdad Sunday, police said, in what one Iraqi official called an attempt to undermine security ahead of a much anticipated meeting of Arab heads of state in two months.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 5:37 PM

BAGHDAD - Violent protests erupted in a Shiite neighborhood here Thursday after a powerful car bomb ripped through a funeral ceremony, killing 48 people and wounding 121 in the latest in a string of attacks across the country that is destabilizing Iraq's new government even before it has completely formed.

In scenes of chaos after the blast, enraged residents and mourners threw rocks at police to prevent them from reaching the site. When Iraqi army reinforcements arrived, a small group of gunmen hiding in a nearby building shot at them, prompting the soldiers to open fire over the heads of the crowd, according to an official with the army's Baghdad operations command, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

The Shuala area where the bombing took place is a stronghold of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, although a rival, more radical faction, Asaib al-Haq, has recently been asserting its influence there.

The protests reflected a building sense of frustration with the government's failure to halt a wave of deadly bombings over the past 10 days that has killed nearly 200 people, more than the entire fatality toll of 151 in December.

Though bombings still occur on a regular basis, it has been years since the country has seen such a sustained onslaught of major attacks, with insurgents striking in both Sunni and Shiite areas, against security forces, civilians and Shiite pilgrims.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni extremist umbrella group that includes the al-Qaeda in Iraq organization, asserted responsibility for a string of suicide bombings last week that targeted security forces in two mostly Sunni provinces north of Baghdad, killing dozens of people. There has been no assertion of responsibility for an equally deadly wave of car bombings in the days that followed, in which dozens of Shiite pilgrims were killed in the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq.

The attack Thursday was the biggest in Baghdad since early November, though violence has been escalating in recent days in the capital. Five people were killed earlier in the day in four smaller bombings in the city that targeted government officials, police and a civilian minibus.

The bloodshed has dashed hopes that the announcement last month of a new government including all the major political factions would stabilize the country and perhaps accelerate the recent decline in violence enough to allow reconstruction and foreign investment to begin in earnest.

Instead, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, embarking on his second term in office, will have to confront the challenge of rising insecurity at a time when he has yet to complete his cabinet. Several key posts remain unfilled, including defense and interior, for which Maliki has assumed responsibility pending permanent appointments.

Qeis is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.

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