BAGHDAD – Rapid-fire bombings and mortar strikes in mostly Shi’ite neighborhoods of Baghdad killed at least 76 people and wounded nearly 200 on Tuesday, calling into question the ability of Iraqi security forces to protect the capital.
The blasts – at least 13 separate attacks – came just two days after gunmen in Baghdad held held a Christian congregation hostage in a siege that left 58 people dead. Hundreds of Christians gathered at a downtown church Tuesday morning to mourn their lost brethren.
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“They murdered us today and on Sunday, they killed our brother, the Christians,” said Hussein al-Saiedi, a 26- year-old resident of the Shi’ite slum of Sadr City where 21 people were killed in the most deadly incident that day. He said he was talking to friends on a busy street when the blast occurred.
“We were just standing on the street when we heard a loud noise, and then saw smoke and pieces of cars, falling from the sky,” he said. People were fleeing the site in panic, frantically calling the names of their relatives and friends. “[Government officials] say the situation is under control. Where is their control?”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the coordination of the blasts, the complexity of the operation and the predominantly Shi’ite targets all point to al-Qaida-linked Sunni insurgents.
Iraq has been plagued by conflict between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim sects since the 2003 collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, which was dominated by the minority Sunnis. The regime was supplanted by a Shi’ite-dominated government that has remained in power.
The bombings began at about 6:15 p.m. The assailants used boobytrapped cars, roadside bombs, mortars and at least one suicide bomber on a motorcycle. Though most of the neighborhoods hit were Shi’itedominated, a couple of Sunni neighborhoods were also struck.
The attacks spanned one side of Baghdad to the other, and were staggered over several hours. This indicated a high degree of coordination and complexity from an insurgency that just a few months ago, US and Iraqi officials had claimed was all but defeated.
The information on the casualties came from police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity since they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The complex attack carried out Sunday evening on parishioners celebrating mass at the Our Lady of Salvation church was in an affluent Baghdad neighborhood, and emphasized the ease with which militants can still strike in Iraq. And it underlined the particularly perilous standing of the country’s Christians in Iraq’s sectarian structure.
Iraq’s top Catholic prelate, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, urged the government to protect the nation’s Christian community and fulfill their promises, as he addressed a distraught congregation at the Chaldean St. Joseph Church in central Baghdad.
In a show of force, Iraqi security forces flooded the streets around the church where black-clad parishioners mourned for the dead parishioners.
But as the security forces concentrated their efforts in the central
Karradah neighborhood where the funeral occurred, militants appeared to
have fanned out across the capital where the evening attacks took place
just hours later.
The immediate reaction from many Iraqis was intense frustration that
attacks continue despite assurances that the city and country are safe.
“Where is the government?” asked Adnan Anbar, a 42-year-old man from
Sadr City who was crossing the street when the blast went off. “And what
are all these checkpoints about, then?” he asked, alluding to the
hundreds of police and army checkpoints scattered throughout Baghdad.