32 killed in Baghdad bombings

32 killed in Baghdad bombings

Friday, January 22, 2021

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital yesterday, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens, officials said in what was the first massive bombing in years, harkening back to darker days of rampant militant attacks.

The rare suicide bombing hit the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad amid heightened political tensions over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis. Blood was splattered on the pavement of the busy market amid piles of clothes and shoes as survivors took stock of the disarray in the aftermath.

By sundown, crowds reappeared at the site of the deadly attack, carrying the coffins of the deceased in a show of defiance. Many questioned the timing of the attack, which occurred a day after President Joe Biden was sworn into office. The US-led coalition recently ceased combat activities and is gradually drawing down its troop presence in Iraq, sparking fears of an IS resurgence.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iraqi military officials said it was the work of the Islamic State group.

Iraq's Health Minister Hassan Mohammed al-Tamimi said in addition to the deaths at least 110 were wounded in the attack. He said some of the wounded were in serious condition. The health ministry announced that all of its hospitals in the capital were mobilised to treat the wounded.

Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, which includes an array of Iraqi forces, said the first suicide bomber cried out loudly that he was ill in the middle of the bustling market, prompting a crowd to gather around him — and that's when he detonated his explosive belt.

The second detonated his belt shortly after, he said.

“This is a terrorist act perpetrated by a sleeper cell of the Islamic State,” al-Khafaji said. He said IS “wanted to prove its existence” after suffering many blows in military operations to root out the militants.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis denounced the attack in Baghdad as a “senseless act of brutality” and urged Iraqis to keep working to replace violence with fraternity and peace. The telegram of condolences sent to the Iraqi president was particularly heartfelt, given Francis is due to visit Iraq in early March to try to encourage the country's Christian communities that have been devastated by IS persecution.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the Baghdad attack and appealed to the Iraqi people “to reject any attempts to spread fear and violence aimed at undermining peace, stability and unity,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The UN chief called on the Government “to ensure that those behind these horrific crimes are swiftly identified and brought to justice,” Dujarric said.

The twin suicide bombings marked the first in three years to target Baghdad's bustling commercial district. A suicide bomb attack took place in the same area in 2018 shortly after then Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State, a Sunni militant group.

Iraq has seen assaults perpetrated by both the Islamic State group and mostly Shiite militia groups in recent months. Militias have routinely targeted the American presence in Iraq with rocket and mortar attacks, especially the US Embassy in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. The pace of those attacks, however, has decreased since an informal truce was declared by Iran-backed armed groups in October.

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