Car bombs kill at least 15 in Baghdad shopping area

By Erik de Castro

BAGHDAD - Two car bombs killed 15 people in a mainly Shi'ite area of Baghdad today in the latest in a series of attacks by militants on crowded shopping areas in the Iraqi capital.

The weeklong string of bombings has further disrupted life in Baghdad, spreading fear among the city's 7 million residents awaiting a planned US-backed offensive to tighten the government's fragile grip over its largely lawless capital.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said US President George W. Bush had expressed his full backing for the Baghdad security plan during a phone call with Maliki today.

Bush has said he will send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq, most to Baghdad, but has run into fierce opposition from the new Democrat-dominated Congress as well as public disapproval.

Today's attacks struck New Baghdad in the east of the capital, targeting weekend shoppers thronging shops and market stalls selling fruit and exotic birds.

A Reuters journalist saw eight bodies being loaded into ambulances and body parts lying in the street.

Dead birds lay in cages in an area that appeared to have been reserved for a bird market. Several cars were ablaze. Police said 15 people had been killed and 55 wounded in the quick-fire blasts at a street intersection.

One police source said the blasts were both the work of suicide bombers in cars, while another said there had been one suicide bomb and a second bomb in a parked car.

In the worst attack this week, 88 people were killed in twin car bomb blasts in the Bab al-Sharji market in central Baghdad, an area home to both Sunni Arab and Shi'ite traders.

Bombers also struck a Shi'ite shopping area in central Karrada district on Thursday, killing 26, and on Saturday killed 15 people in an attack on the city's famous pet market.

Shi'ite prime minister Maliki has blamed many of the bombings on Sunni Arab militants and supporters of former President Saddam Hussein, whose botched execution last month angered many fellow members of his minority Sunni sect.

Most of the extra US troops are destined for Baghdad, seen as the epicentre of the violence that is fuelled on the one hand by Shi'ite militias linked to parties in Maliki's government, and Sunni Arab militants, including al Qaeda, on the other.

"The US president repeated ... his commitment to support the Baghdad security plan and his complete readiness to provide the requirements for its success," Maliki's office said of the telephone call between the two leaders.

Earlier this month Maliki called for more equipment for his security forces, saying that would allow them to take over responsibility for security more quickly.

Despite Maliki's announcement earlier this month of the new offensive to regain control of Baghdad's streets from sectarian death squads, violence has continued unabated, with militants defiantly continuing to kill scores of people every week.

Gunmen dressed in police commando uniforms abducted eight people from a central Baghdad computer store today in the latest mass kidnapping to hit the Iraqi capital, police said.

Gunmen dragged out employees from the store, situated on a main road, and bundled them into waiting cars. There had been a relative lull in such mass abductions in recent weeks.

A rocket was fired into the international Green Zone in Baghdad today and a witness said it appeared to have landed in the US embassy grounds. A US embassy official said two people were lightly wounded. They were not embassy staff and he could not confirm it landed in the embassy compound.

US forces killed 14 insurgents in an air strike early on Saturday in an area near Baghdad where Sunni insurgents are battling Iraqi government and US troops.

The US military said the air strike was launched after some militants had tried to escape troops closing in on them.

- REUTERS

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