Protests erupt after lethal blast in Baghdad

Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 28, 2011

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.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has yet to complete his cabinet. Several key posts remain unfilled, including defense and interior.

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

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