Da The New York Times del 31/08/2006
Originale su http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/31/world/middleeast/31iraq.html?_r=1&am...

Violence Grows, Killing 52 Iraqis, in Face of Security Plan

di Damien Cave

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 30 — Shootings and hidden bombs at a market, a gas station and an army recruiting center killed at least 52 Iraqis on Wednesday, continuing a wave of sectarian violence that has defied stepped-up efforts to halt its spread.

Iraqis looked for their relatives Wednesday among bombing victims at the morgue in Hilla, south of Baghdad.

In the deadliest attack, a bomb inside a vendor's cart exploded just after 10 a.m. in the Shorja market, Baghdad's oldest and largest bazaar, killing at least 24 civilians and wounding 35, Interior Ministry officials said.

Earlier, just south of the capital, in Hilla, a bicycle rigged with explosives blew up near an army recruiting center, killing at least 12 people, the authorities said. A car bomb near a gas station in Baghdad also killed two civilians and wounded 21 people, including five policemen, who had rushed to the scene in response to a blast a few minutes earlier.

Gunmen in Baghdad killed a senior Justice Ministry official, Nadiya Muhammad Hasan, her driver and a guard. The motive was unclear, but senior officials have frequently been targets of killings in recent months.

The authorities also found 13 other bodies in various locations in the city. With at least 11 additional civilians killed throughout the country, the tally of Iraqis killed or found dead on Wednesday reached 65, according to Iraqi officials.

The rash of attacks — reflecting a spike in violence that has claimed roughly 200 lives since Sunday — came despite a new security plan for the capital, on a day when the top United States general, George W. Casey Jr., in Iraq said Iraqi forces could take over security as early as next year.

“I don't have a date,” General Casey said in Baghdad. “But I can see — over the next 12 to 18 months — I can see the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little coalition support.”

Three years into the war, American and Iraqi officials have grown increasingly eager to show progress. In recent weeks, they have repeatedly trumpeted evidence of a decline in killings this month after increases in June and July.

Yet the bloodshed of the past few days suggests that the gains might be temporary.

Americans have not been spared. The United States military said Wednesday that a marine from the First Armored Division was killed in action on Tuesday in Anbar Province.

Military officials also said two American soldiers were killed in an attack on a Stryker vehicle on Sunday in western Baghdad, not four as it had reported earlier. The total number of American service members killed that day remained at nine, though.

This month, 60 American service members have been killed in Iraq, up from 43 in July and nearly even with the 61 killed in June, according to Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks military fatalities. In all, more than 2,600 American men and women in uniform have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war, according to the Department of Defense.

The toll for Iraqis is far higher, with an average of more than 100 killed a day in June and July by spreading sectarian violence, according to Iraqi government figures.

Statistics for August have not been released, but the attack at the Shorja market was just the latest attack in a crowded area that seemed aimed at killing as many civilians as possible.

The explosion destroyed scores of makeshift stalls, sent smoke towering over buildings and spread body parts through the streets.

Ali Jasim, 47, a yogurt vendor at the market, said that he narrowly missed being killed and that two brothers of a restaurant owner and four cardamom vendors were among those killed. “One of the women's sons was getting married tomorrow,” he said.

A few hours after the explosion, piles of debris had been swept to the curb. A funeral procession flowed through the street, carrying one of the victims of the bombing.

Some of the mourners and bystanders blamed the United States, echoing a belief among some groups of Iraqis that the American government initiates the violence to justify its occupation. Others, like Raheem Kadem, 44, a high school gym teacher from Sadr City, a Shiite neighborhood, blamed Iraqi officials.

“Where is government?” he asked. “Why have the politicians left the people to face their destiny while the government hides behind the walls of the heavily protected Green Zone?”

“Things are getting worse,” he said.

Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim, met with the governor of Diwaniya and other local leaders in an effort to shore up support for the government after his troops clashed for 14 hours on Monday with Shiite militias.

He announced that there would be a ban on weapons, though he offered no plan for enforcing it, and said that when rival Shiite factions had disputes with forces in the area, they should ask him to intervene.

The battle was one of the worst internal conflicts in recent memory, pitting Iraqi troops against members of the Mahdi Army, loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and other militias.

The Iraqi police and army officials said Wednesday that the death toll from that battle had increased, to 23 soldiers and 13 civilians.

General Casey said Iraqi forces “gave much better than they got,” but his assessment could not be verified. He said the clash was not a setback for the army and the government did not intend to back down.

“The battle may be over,” he said. “But the campaign to clean that city up and to restore it to Iraqi government control isn't finished.”
Annotazioni − Khalid al-Ansary and Qais Mizher contributed reporting for this article.

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