60 killed as female suicide bombers strike

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Two women suicide bombers killed more than 60 people in separate attacks in Baghdad today.

The first came at the main pet market in the city centre where at least 46 people died and dozens were wounded in the deadliest bombing to strike the capital since the US "surge" of extra troops flooded into central Iraq last spring.

About 20 minutes later, a second woman struck another bird market in a predominantly Shiite area in south-eastern Baghdad. That blast killed as many as 18 people and wounded 25, police said.

The attacks shortly before the weekly Islamic call to prayer resounded across the capital were the latest in a series of violent incidents that have been chipping away at Iraqi confidence in the permanence of recent security gains.

The first blast occurred about 10.20 am when the woman detonated explosives hidden under her traditional black robe at the central al-Ghazl market. The pet bazaar had recently re-emerged as a popular shopping venue as Baghdad security improved and a ban on driving was lifted.

Police initially said the bomb was hidden in a box of birds but later realised it was a suicide attack after finding the woman's head.

At least four other suicide bombings have been staged by women since November, all in the volatile Diyala province north-east of the capital.

The most recent was on January 16 when a woman blew herself up as Shiites were preparing for a ceremony marking the holiday of Ashoura in a Shiite village near the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba.

Involving women in fighting violates religious taboos in Iraq, but the US military has warned al Qaida in Iraq is recruiting women and youths to stage suicide attacks as the insurgents become increasingly desperate to thwart stepped up security measures.

Women in Iraq often wear a black Islamic robe known as an abaya that can be used to hide explosives, and it can be easier for them to avoid thorough searches at checkpoints because of Islamic sensitivities about their treatment.

The US military has been unable to stop the suicide bombings despite a steep drop in violence in the past six months, but the number of casualties has been lower than many attacks last year that saw death tolls topping 100.