Posted on Thu, Aug. 31, 2006

Bombs and shootings claim dozens in Iraq
One blast killed 24. Amid new attacks, a U.S. general said Iraqis could run security next year.
By Damien Cave

BAGHDAD - Shootings and hidden bombs at a market, a gas station, and army recruiting center killed at least 52 Iraqis yesterday, continuing a wave of sectarian violence amid stepped-up efforts to halt its spread.

In the deadliest incident, a bomb inside a vendor's cart exploded just after 10 a.m. in the Shorja market, Baghdad's oldest and largest bazaar, killing at least 24 civilians and wounding 35, Interior Ministry officials said.

Earlier, just south of the capital in Hillah, a bicycle rigged with explosives blew up near an army recruiting center, killing at least 12 people, authorities said. A car bomb near a gas station in Baghdad killed two civilians and wounded 21 people, including five police officers, who had rushed to the scene in response to a blast a few minutes earlier.

Gunmen in Baghdad killed a senior Justice Ministry official, Nadiya Muhammad Hasan, her driver and a guard. The motive was unclear, but senior officials have frequently been targets of killings in recent months. Authorities also found 13 other bodies in various locations in the city. With at least 11 additional civilians killed throughout the country, the tally of Iraqis killed or found dead yesterday reached 65, according to Iraqi officials.

The rash of attacks - reflecting a spike in violence that has claimed about 200 lives since Sunday - came despite a new security plan for the capital, on a day when the top U.S. general in Iraq said Iraqi forces could take over security as early as next year.

"I don't have a date," Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said in Baghdad. "But I can see - over the next 12 to 18 months - I can see the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little coalition support."

Three years into the war, U.S. and Iraqi officials have grown increasingly eager to show progress. In recent weeks, they have repeatedly highlighted evidence of a decline in killings this month after increases in June and July.

Yet the bloodshed of the last few days suggests that the gains might be temporary.

Americans have not been spared. The U.S. military said yesterday that a Marine from the First Armored Division was killed in action Tuesday in Anbar province. Military officials also said two U.S. soldiers had been killed in an attack on a Stryker vehicle Sunday in western Baghdad, not four as it had reported earlier.

So far this month, 60 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq, up from 43 in July and nearly even with the 61 killed in June, according to Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks military fatalities. In all, 2,362 American men and women in uniform have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war, according to the Defense Department.

The toll for Iraqis is far higher, with an average of more than 100 people killed per day in June and July by spreading sectarian violence, according to Iraqi government figures.

Statistics for August have not been released, but the bombing at the Shorja market was just the latest attack in a crowded area that seemed aimed at killing as many civilians as possible. The explosion destroyed scores of makeshift stalls, sent smoke towering over buildings, and spread body parts through the streets.

Ali Jasim, 47, a yogurt vendor at the market, said that he had narrowly missed being killed and that two brothers of a restaurant owner and four cardamom vendors were among those who died. "One of the women's sons was getting married tomorrow," he said.

A few hours after the explosion, piles of debris had been swept to the curb. A funeral procession flowed through the street, carrying one of the victims of the bombing.

Some of the mourners and bystanders blamed the United States, echoing a belief among some groups of Iraqis that the U.S. government initiates the violence to justify its occupation. Others, such as Raheem Kadem, 44, a high school gym teacher from Sadr City, a Shiite neighborhood, blamed Iraqi officials.

"Where is government?" he asked. "Why have the politicians left the people to face their destiny while the government hides behind the walls of the heavily protected Green Zone?

"Things are getting worse," he said.

No Death Penalty Sought for Marine

The government will not seek the death penalty against a Marine Corps private who is among eight service members charged in the shooting of an Iraqi civilian, a military prosecutor said yesterday.

Lt. Col. John Baker announced the decision during a hearing at Camp Pendleton, Calif., for Pfc. John J. Jodka III, 20. It was not clear whether the recommendation applied to the six other Marines and one Navy corpsman also charged. The hearing is part of the process to determine whether the defendants should face courts-martial.

The defendants are charged in the April 26 shooting of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, in the village of Hamdania. Jodka is accused of firing on Awad.
Associated Press