Suicide bombers first attacked a bus full of schoolgirls in central Baghdad yesterday and then detonated a second bomb in the middle of a crowd of rescuers, killing at least 28 people and wounding 66 others.
"I rushed to the site and saw several schoolgirls trapped in a bus, screaming for help," said Abbas Fadhil, standing in a blood-soaked shirt outside the damaged restaurant where he worked. "We got the girls out of the bus, and rushed them to hospital."
The two explosions took place within seconds of each other during the morning rush hour in the mostly Shia Kasrah section of the al-Adhamiyah district. They have the hallmarks of an al-Qa’ida attack. Security in the Iraqi capital, having improved in the first half of 2007 and the first half of 2008, has deteriorated in recent weeks.
Shoes belonging to the girls were scattered in the wreckage of the minibus, on a floor soaked in blood. Many students from the nearby fine arts institute were also killed or wounded when they were caught by the blast as they ate breakfast in nearby cafes. "This is a criminal act that targeted innocent people who were heading to work and school, while politicians are busy with their personal greed and ambitions," said Abbas Fadhil.
In Diyala province north east of Baghdad, which has seen some of the worst atrocities in the war, a woman suicide bomber meanwhile killed five people and wounded 15 yesterday, when she blew herself up at a security checkpoint in Baquba, the provincial capital.
Sectarian killings are well below their level of two years ago – when 3,000 Sunni and Shia were being slaughtered every month. But the Iraqi capital is still wholly divided between the two communities, with few mixed areas remaining. Particularly horrendous attacks, such as those on Shia school children, could ignite a fresh wave of tit-for-tat murders.
There are army and police checkpoints every few hundred yards in Baghdad leading to near gridlock in traffic. But individual suicide bombers are almost impossible to stop and |al-Qa’ida in Iraq still has an extensive network capable of recruiting and equipping bombers in the city.
There have also been a series of assassination attempts on senior officials. So far, however, large numbers of police and soldiers on the streets have been able to prevent the return of massive truck bombs, often containing a ton or more of explosives, being detonated in Shia areas. A new difficulty facing the government is the fall in the price of crude oil on which the state is wholly dependent.
Iraq had been expecting oil revenue of almost $80bn for 2008, but this will be much lower now the price of oil is down to $64 a barrel. With total government expenditure at some $50bn, this means the government may be short of $10bn to $15bn next year. Earlier this year the government was doubling the salaries of government employees, as if the high price of oil would be permanent.