Robert Fisk: Shias are the targets as bombs bring carnage to bus station

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The Independent Online

In the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, it was the place of the Last Goodbye, where tens of thousands of foot-soldiers, most of them Shia, left for the front, never to return. And yesterday, two car bombs blew up just after 8am at the same bus station, turning 22 vehicles into cauldrons of fire. Buses were among them, many of the passengers burnt alive in their seats.

By 11am - by which time the place was a graveyard of carbonised shops and cars - it was a place of anarchy and fear, masked policemen ordering motorists off the road as frightened American troops in Humvees screamed abuse at Iraqis who cut into their convoys.

The Nahda bus station, with its vast population from the Shia slums of Sadr City, is perhaps the most angry, dangerous area of Baghdad; which, of course, is one of the reasons why the bombers left their cars there. Even worse, they set off another explosion, perhaps a mortar, at the nearby al-Kindi hospital just as the wounded arrived.

In all - and this was only an initial count - 43 civilians were killed and more than 80 wounded in the deadliest bombing in Baghdad this month.

The power of the bombs was evident from the damage. On the roadway, I saw what was left of one of the cars packed with explosives: part of an engine block, a fuel tank pipe and just a few metres of wire. Yet a quarter of a mile away, buses and cars had been burnt out. Almost all the dead were incinerated in seconds.

The mortuaries here will calculate their numbers. And, of course, the Western media will forget. Seventeen Spanish soldiers killed in Afghanistan count for more than 43 dead Iraqis.

Shortly after the bombing, the Nahda bus station became a place of chaos, of hooded and masked policemen cursing civilians as they tried desperately to negotiate the crowded, angry streets, fearful of suicide bombers, of course, and of equally terrified US troops negotiating the same packed roads in their fragile Humvees. In a narrow street, Mohamed, my driver, managed to wedge himself between two American Humvees, a potentially deadly mistake because that is the tactic suicide bombers adopt to maximise their casualties, but to our immense good fortune, a US officer jumped out of one of their vehicles and remonstrated with us. His machine-gunner had already tried to turn his barrels on our car but could not deflect them low enough to open fire.

Burnt-out cars and buses lined the road. The hospital, in one of the poorest suburbs of Baghdad, had by that time been surrounded by US troops and Iraqi policemen - all, in this case, wearing balaclavas or scarves to cover their faces - and furious Shia Muslims stood outside. "They are so angry that they look like men from caves," an Iraqi friend said.

For once, it seemed, there were no suicide bombers involved, just old-fashioned car bombs, packed with explosives to kill the largest number of innocents in the least possible time.