Suicide bomber kills at least 29 in Abu Ghraib

Second major attack in Baghdad comes amid spike of violence as US military begins drawing down its forces.

iraq suicide attack crowd 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
iraq suicide attack crowd 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
An assailant with explosives strapped to his body detonated them Tuesday in a market crowded with tribal leaders attending a reconciliation conference, killing at least 29 people and wounding dozens more. It was the second devastating attack in three days, raising the prospects of an escalation in insurgent attacks. The bombing unleashed chaos in the ramshackle market that lines the street near the municipal buildings of Abu Ghraib, on Baghdad's western outskirts. In the confusion, soldiers opened fire, wounding more people, and hospital staff complained that they were overwhelmed with the flood of casualties brought to their facility. Without discrimination, the explosives sliced through the crowded vegetable market, killing men, women and children, and hurtling body parts into streets strewed with trash and roamed by feral dogs. In vain, police tried to chase one of the animals that had scurried away with the severed leg of a victim clamped in its jaw. Two Iraqi journalists from the Baghdadia television station covering the reconciliation meeting were among the dead. The privately owned network aired Koranic recitation and broadcast with a black stripe over the left corner to mark their deaths. The passport and identity cards of one of them lay at the hospital, stained with blood. "While mourning its martyrs, Baghdadia television hails the souls of Iraqi martyrs and the martyred heroes of Iraqi journalism," the station said in a statement. The attack was the second devastating bombing in three days. On Sunday, an assailant on a motorcycle plowed into a crowd outside of the police academy in Baghdad, killing 28 people. In another scene of confusion, police fired in the air there, too. US officials have said the attacks represent desperation on the part of insurgents amid the success of municipal elections in January and the signing of a US-Iraqi agreement for a withdrawal of all US forces by 2011. In announcing the first stage of the Obama administration's withdrawal on Sunday, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, spokesman for US forces in Iraq, said violence was at its lowest level since the summer of 2003. The insurgents are "threatened. They're getting desperate. They very much want to maintain relevance," Perkins told a news conference. But both attacks have happened in locales that are fortified even by the standards of the capital, where virtually every street is lined with blast walls. And in each attack, Iraqi security forces seemed undisciplined in the immediate aftermath. Ahmad al-Zobaie, a doctor at the hospital, said most of the wounded Tuesday were injured by police gunfire, an account corroborated by several patients in the ward. The brigade stationed in Abu Ghraib blamed the gunfire on the force providing security for the prime minister's envoy. There was a symbolism in the target of the attack. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promoted efforts at reconciliation, especially since the strong showing of his coalition in January's elections. In one such meeting last week, al-Maliki called for Iraqis to reconcile with former supporters of the government of Saddam Hussein. Tuesday's meeting brought together Sunni and Shi'ite tribal leaders in a region that was once of Iraq's most dangerous, home to a notorious detention facility, where soldiers photographed their abuse of prisoners. Since last year, it has grown safer, after tribal leaders, backed and armed by the US military, joined ranks to fight insurgents. The attack occurred about noon as a police general escorted the tribal figures and residents through the market in a show of renewed security, an Interior Ministry source said. The police general survived, hospital officials said. "I was standing at my stall when the explosion occurred," said Ali Mahmoud, 23. Struck by shrapnel in his chest and hand, he lost three fingers of his right hand and spoke with difficulty. "I passed out and woke up to find myself in the hospital." There were conflicting reports on the casualties. Hospital officials said 29 people were killed. The Defense Ministry put the toll at 28; the Interior Ministry, 33.