US civilians among 22 dead in Baghdad suicide bomb

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A plume of oily smoke rose over central Baghdad from a suicide car bomb which exploded, killing 18 Iraqis and four foreign contractors, two of whom were American, as they sped through the city in a convoy yesterday. More than 35 were wounded, including five schoolgirls.

A plume of oily smoke rose over central Baghdad from a suicide car bomb which exploded, killing 18 Iraqis and four foreign contractors, two of whom were American, as they sped through the city in a convoy yesterday. More than 35 were wounded, including five schoolgirls.

Two of the distinctive sports utility vehicles used by foreign security companies, making an easily identifiably target for insurgents, were reduced to smouldering wreckage close to Tahrir Square in the heart of the city. A wounded foreigner, bleeding from cuts and clutching his head, was seen to stagger away from the site of the explosion.

"When the convoy drove past, a car bomb exploded right beside it," said Mohammed Amir, a policeman at the scene. At least three children were killed and 30 wounded. After the attack the street, which here enters an underpass, was covered with the wreckage of cars and broken glass. The US embassy said that unknown number of American civilians were among the casualties.

Al-Qa'ida's wing in Iraq later claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on an Islamist website. "Our brothers in the military wing of al-Qa'ida in Iraq positioned a rigged car near Tahrir Square today ... They monitored vehicles of the American intelligence agency CIA, and then our brother exploded, causing slaughter," the statement said.

More than 300 people in Iraq have been killed, mostly by suicide bombers, over the past 10 days, after a quieter period in the aftermath of the election on 30 January.

As the carnage continued, the new government announced key cabinet posts: Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab, is to be the new defence minister and Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, the oil minister.

The savage violence of the past 10 days is increasingly sectarian as differences deepen between Shia and Sunni Arabs. The 12 men found executed and buried in a rubbish dump on Friday turned out to be Sunni and members of the powerful Dulaimi tribe. The dead were farmers from Madaen, a town south of Baghdad. Gangs of Sunni insurgents were said to have kidnapped 60 Shia from Madaen last month and killed them.

Three farmers who escaped said all the victims were travelling to Baghdad to sell their vegetables. They were sleeping in the middle of the night when a four-wheel drive police vehicle pulled up nearby. "There were some men wearing police uniforms who took away anyone from Madaen," one farmer, Hassan Kamel, said. He escaped by hiding under a car. Most of the newly recruited police are Shia.

The killings may be in retaliation for the alleged killing of the Shia hostages in Madaen. So far the Shias, despite being the frequent target of suicide bombers, have not sought revenge. Their most influential religious leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for restraint.

The dispute in the town started some months ago because Shias from elsewhere in Iraq had taken over some old army camps which they were looting, according to one Sunni Arab from Madaen. They sold the bricks, tore reinforcement wire out of the concrete, and robbed cars on the road nearby. The Sunni tribes in the town demanded they leave and took several of them hostage. The Shia in the army camps then went to the Shia political parties and claimed that they were the victims of a sectarian pogrom.

* A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up in an internet café popular with westerners in Kabul yesterday, killing at least one other man and injuring five. All the casualties were Afghanis, but foreigners were in the street outside when the attack happened at about 6pm local time.

One eyewitness saw a man run into the Park internet café in the city's Shah-e-Naw district before at least two grenades detonated inside. The café was heavily damaged and a customer was killed at the computer where he sat. Afghan police cordoned off the café amid scenes of pandemonium.

Western security sources in the city speculated that yesterday evening's attack could be part of a campaign by the Taliban and al-Qa'ida to show they are still active after failing to disrupt last year's presidential election. Suicide bombers have staged few attacks in Afghanistan, although some experts fear the Taliban and al-Qa'ida may begin using Iraq-style terror tactics.

The outgoing US commander in Afghanistan, Lt-Gen David Barno, warned last month that terrorists were preparing strikes before September's election.

Comments