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Iraq rocked by ISIS bombings

Buildings reduced to rubble after bombing in Baghdad

 

The death count from a massive suicide truck bombing that tore through Baghdad rose to 200 on Monday, and rescue officials warned that number could go even higher.

The Saturday evening attack in one of the area’s busiest shopping sites was the deadliest to hit the Iraq capital in years. But it’s the third mass terrorist strike across three nations in less than a week, as the holy Muslim month of Ramadan draws near a close.

One bombing took place in Karada, a mostly Shiite middle-class section of Baghdad lined with stores, restaurants and cafés where families and young people were gathered after breaking their daylight fast. People were eating, enjoying social time and preparing for Eid al-Fitr, the day that marks the end of the holiday this week.

As people watched soccer matches and shopped, a minivan packed with explosives plowed into a building housing a coffee shop, stores and a gym, and blew up.

The Baghdad blast killed at least 200 people. Authorities say a dozen or so are still missing and 187 are wounded. Many of the victims were women and children who were in the multi-story shopping mall. Mohamed al-Rubaye, the deputy head of the security committee of the Baghdad Provincial Council, told Afaq TV on Monday 81 bodies are so charred, DNA testing will have to be used for identification purposes.

The second bombing happened early Sunday morning on another busy street in east Baghdad, also a Shiite neighborhood. The explosion killed five and wounded 16.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Karada bombing. An unverified statement posted online said the extremist organization was specifically targeting Shiites. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the second bombing. It was the latest in a string of assaults during Ramadan, when jihadists often launch operations against those they regard as their enemies.

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Overwhelmed hospitals and emergency responders, speaking on condition of anonymity, provided death tolls as they sifted through rubble for victims or tried to identify charred bodies. Traumatized family members milled around or sat on sidewalks, waiting for news of loved ones. Some young people lit candles on street corners.

A cemetery worker said more than 70 bodies had arrived so far at the vast cemetery in the holy city of Najaf, where Iraq’s Shiites bury their dead. Many more bodies were expected on Monday.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement Sunday condemning the attack and describing the loss of life as a “painful tragedy” that “robbed Iraqis of the delight of their victories against the reprehensible (Islamic State group) in Fallujah.”

The attacks are focusing anger on the prime minister, blaming him for lapses of security in the city that allowed bomb-laden vehicles to go through multiple checkpoints and into civilian neighborhoods. Patrols that screen for explosives at city checkpoints use electronic wands which have been repeatedly discredited. Security across all of Baghdad is fragmented since it is handled by armed guards who are allied with the government, but who are also loyal to militias or political parties. They often do not share information or coordinate.

When al-Abadi visited the Karada district after the suicide blast, an enraged mob surrounded his convoy and threw rocks and shoes – particularly insulting to Arabs – yelled expletives and called him “thief.” Al-Abadi, who rose to power in 2014, had been enjoying a taste of victory after recapturing Falluja from the Islamic State barely a week before.

The prime minister has the support of the Obama administration, which hoped the new prime minister would work to reunite the country. Al-Abadi’s predecessor, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, is blamed for the rise of the Islamic State due to his sectarian policies.

Both bombings are a sign of the Sunni-Shiite tension in the Muslim world. Sunni-dominated ISIS claimed it was targeting Shiite neighborhoods. Karrada and Shaab are predominately Shiite.

In the wake of Sunday’s attacks, many are questioning how long al-Abadi might stay in power given the anger swelling against him. The New York Times notes, “Assaults like the one early on Sunday, as well as a string of attacks in Baghdad in May that killed more than 200 people in a week, make it difficult, if not impossible, for Mr. Abadi, a Shiite, to make meaningful progress in reconciling Iraq’s majority Shiites with Sunnis.”

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In a statement, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said, “These attacks only strengthen our resolve to support Iraqi security forces as they continue to take back territory from ISIL, just as we continue to intensify our efforts to root out ISIL’s terrorist network and leaders.”

The Associated Press notes at the height of the extremist group’s power in 2014, the Islamic State had driven the government from control across nearly one-third of Iraqi territory. Now the militants are estimated to control only 14 percent.