Bombings Shake Central Baghdad
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – At least 20 people were killed Tuesday in a string of bombings in the center of Baghdad, as more American soldiers patrolled the streets of the capital in a make-or-break bid to quell sectarian violence.
Nearly 60 people were wounded in the blasts, police said. The explosions began when three bombs went off simultaneously near the Interior Ministry in central Baghdad, killing 10 people and wounding eight, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid said.
Two more bombs ripped through the main Shurja market, also in central Baghdad, killing 10 more civilians and wounding 50, police Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun said.
At least 13 other people were killed or found dead Tuesday, most in the Baghdad area, where tension between Sunnis and Shiites runs the highest.
The violence underscores the security crisis facing Baghdad, which prompted American commanders to send more U.S. soldiers to the capital in a renewed bid to curb sectarian killings and kidnappings.
U.S. officials said the latest phase of the security operation was launched Monday “to reduce the level of murders, kidnappings, assassinations, terrorism and sectarian violence in the city and to reinforce the Iraqi government’s control of Baghdad.”
A U.S. statement said about 6,000 additional Iraqi troops were being sent to the Baghdad area, along with 3,500 U.S. soldiers of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team and 2,000 troops from the U.S. 1st Armored Division, which has served as the theater reserve force since November.
“Iraqi and Multinational Division-Baghdad soldiers will not fail the Iraqi people,” said Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, commander of U.S. forces in the capital.
American officials have released few details of the new campaign, citing security. However, more heavily armed U.S. soldiers were seen Tuesday on the streets of Ghazaliyah, one of the neighborhoods targeted in the first stage of the stabilization effort.
Troops were seen patrolling both in vehicles and on foot, hoping to assure residents of the majority Sunni neighborhood they will be protected from criminals and sectarian death squads.
“The general priorities are to bring stability to the key neighborhoods where there is sectarian fighting,” the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., told reporters in Tikrit. “You’ll see us starting there and then gradually expanding across the rest of the city.”
Much of the violence has been blamed on sectarian militias that have stepped up a campaign of tit-for-tat killings since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad.
Many militias are linked to political parties that are part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national unity government, and they are reluctant to disband their armed wings unless others do the same.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said there was talk under way among Sunni and Shiite groups to reach agreements and sign pledges to end sectarian fighting.
“There’s more that needs to be done” Khalilzad told reporters. “There’s a need for practical steps to move forward. … I think they’re heading in the right direction and this is the right government … to tackle this issue of sectarian fighting.”
Both Khalilzad and Casey were in Tikrit for ceremonies marking the formal transfer of security responsibility from the 101st Airborne Division to the Iraqi army across a wide area of northern Iraq.
U.S. officials emphasized the transfer of authority was on schedule despite the security crisis in Baghdad.
Nevertheless, the ambassador warned that if the violence cannot be curbed in the Baghdad area, Iraq “might be in a much more difficult situation” in the coming months. He said al-Maliki understands the threat and “he’s determined to succeed.”
However, differences have emerged between U.S. and Iraqi officials on tactics. The prime minister, a Shiite, strongly criticized a U.S.-Iraqi raid Monday on Baghdad’s Sadr City district, stronghold of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.
Al-Maliki complained that the raid used excessive force, and President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, warned the Americans it was in “no one’s interest” to provoke a showdown with al-Sadr.
For his part, al-Sadr urged his followers to purge their ranks of “all elements that defame the Mahdi Army” and called on his supporters to denounce kidnappings and the “killing of innocent people.”
But such declarations alone will do little to curb the violence, much of which is believed carried out by criminal gangs and freelance gunmen settling personal scores.
On Tuesday, gunmen in two cars stormed a bank in the Azamiyah district of Baghdad, killing three bank employees before fleeing with the equivalent of $5,500, according to the Defense Ministry.
Two Sunni bothers were slain in their car repair shop in southwestern Baghdad and four Shiites were gunned down in a series of attacks in Baqouba and Muqdadiyah, two cities in Diyala province northeast of the capital, police said.
Police found two bodies, shot in the head, in Sulla in northwest Baghdad, and a policeman was killed in a bombing in Tikrit, police said.
The other victims died in small-scale shootings and bombings in the Baghdad area, police said.