It was just the latest attack in a relentless cycle of violence that has gripped the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But it was also one of its most brutal, showing that the violence shows no sign of abating even as Iraq wins back territory from Islamic State militants.
The bombing caused an inferno, and most of the victims burned to death or were suffocated in the fires which spread rapidly between shopping centers and stores on the street, which was crowded with people. It was the worst bombing in Iraq since four suicide bombers attacked members of the minority Yazidi community near Mount Sinjar in 2007. But as far as a single bomb attack, it was the most deadly since the U.S.-led invasion.
At a funeral tent in Baghdad’s Binouk neighborhood, Basil al-Mayali, 54, was receiving visitors paying their respects for his only son, who died in Sunday’s bombing. He was a 21-year-old engineering student and was shopping when the bomb struck, hitting him in the head with shrapnel.
“I want the Americans and the British, especially the Americans, to realize what they have caused all these years,” said Mayali. “They started this mess and they left without cleaning it up. They handed the country to a group of ignorant thieves, and this is the result.”
Thirteen years after the invasion, the United States is still struggling to help rebuild Iraq’s army after deciding to dismantle it. The chaos that ensued gave space for groups such as al-Qaeda to thrive in Iraq, later reemerging as the Islamic State.
Following the publication of Wednesday’s report, former president George W. Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq.
“The whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power,” he said. Former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair said the aftermath of the war was more hostile, protracted and bloody than imagined.
“I express more sorrow, regret and apology then you may ever know or can believe,” he said.
There was limited official reaction in Iraq to the report, which was released on the first day of the Eid holiday.
Amir al-Kinani, a politician with the Sadr movement, which fought the U.S.-led occupation, said that since the report showed that the war was the wrong decision, Iraq should be able to claim reparations. “The right thing to do is to prosecute George Bush and Tony Blair as war criminals,” he said.
Iraqi Shiite politician Mowaffak al-Rubaie, an advocate of the invasion who led Hussein to the gallows, said the removal of his regime was a “noble cause” that should not be questioned.
From an Iraqi perspective, the argument over whether Hussein had weapons of mass destruction – touted as a reason for the invasion – is “not relevant,” he said. “What is relevant for us is that they left the country in a total vacuum and walked away from their responsibility when it came to reconstruction.”
He said the inquiry has failed to properly address the poor planning in the lead-up to the war that led to that vacuum.
“What happened after the war was disastrous,” he said.
But after 13 years of violence, many Iraqis are questioning the decision to remove Hussein at all. Even the man who famously took a sledgehammer to a huge statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad in 2003 said he now thinks it would have been better if he hadn’t been overthrown.
“We were better off in the time of Saddam,” said Kadhim Sharif Hassan, 60, who had spent time in jail under the Baathist regime and said many of his relatives were killed by the Iraqi leader.
“In Saddam’s time, there was security, which was the main thing we need. ... The system [Bush and Blair] created is much worse than the old system. It’s only produced death and destruction.”
Morris reported from Beirut.