Bombs return after more than 50 die in market blast

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The Independent Online

Allied forces renewed their heavy aerial attacks on Baghdad today as Iraqi officials said the number of people killed in last night's market bombing had risen to more than 50.

Allied forces renewed their heavy aerial attacks on Baghdad today as Iraqi officials said the number of people killed in last night's market bombing had risen to more than 50.

A strong explosion shook central Baghdad this morning, with the Information Ministry in the centre of Baghdad the target of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Today, the market in north-west Baghdad was strewn with wreckage and there were bloodstains on a sidewalk. Crowds of mourners wailed and blood-soaked children's slippers sat on the street not far from a crater blasted into the ground.

The US Central Command in Qatar said it was looking into the bombing, while the Iraqis continue to insist the deaths were caused by a US cruise missile.

The ministry building remained standing but was seriously damaged. Many of the satellite dishes on the building's roof —used by Western and Arab TV stations to transmit reports from Baghdad — were damaged, and glass from broken windows was strewn in the building's hallways.

Many of the foreign TV reporters still in Baghdad have been working from a car park opposite the ministry for fear of an attack on the building. In anticipation of a bombing, ministry workers have moved computers, printers, TVs and video editing equipment from the building and into warehouses.

Aircraft were heard over the capital this morning, drawing anti-aircraft fire. The sound of distant explosions was becoming more frequent and louder. At 9.30am, a huge blast was heard in the centre.

Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf said 58 people were killed in the market explosion, and said the number was likely to rise because many others were wounded. There were conflicting reports, however, on the number of casualties.

Haqi Ismail Razouq, director of al-Nour Hospital, where the dead and injured were taken, put the death toll at 30 and the number of injured at 47; surgeon Issa Ali Ilwan said 47 were killed and 50 injured. Witnesses said they counted as many as 50 bodies.

There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

"Why do they makes mistakes like these if they have the technology?" asked Abdel-Hadi Adai, who said he lost his 27-year-old brother-in-law Najah Abdel-Rida in the blast. "There are no military installations anywhere near here."

Mr Sahhaf said civilians were being targeted because Iraqi troops had defeated coalition forces in battles

"These are cowardly air raids," he told Lebanon's Al-Hayat LBC satellite television.

Dr Ahmed Sufian said: "The women and children were screaming. We were overwhelmed. What will they hit next? This hospital?"

The Al-Nasr market is in the working-class district of al-Shoala. Witnesses said the bombing took place when the market was at its busiest, around 6pm. They said they saw an aircraft flying high overhead just before the blast.

The explosion left a crater the size of a coffee table on a sidewalk in front of a row of shops. Curiously, nothing was blackened in the immediate surrounding area.

Water was seeping from ruptured pipes and corrugated iron was dangling from the roofs of the damaged shops.

A red Volkswagen was parked only a few yards (meters) from the crater, peppered with what could have been flying shrapnel.

At the hospital, relatives of the dead and wounded wept hysterically and yelled the names of their loved ones. Many searched for relatives or friends.

At the scene of the bombing, women in black chadors were sobbing outside homes where some of the victims lived. Men cried and hugged each other and a funeral procession moved through the market.

Down the road, residents gathered at a Shiite Muslim mosque, crowded around seven wooden coffins draped in blankets. Some of the men stood silently. Others sobbed into trembling hands. In the background, women cried, "Oh God! Oh God!"

Another witness, Omar Ismail, a 35-year-old engineer who witnessed the explosion, said body parts were strewn across the street. "Why do they hate the Iraqi people so much?" he asked.