- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

BAGHDAD — Thunderous explosions and dense smoke swirled through central Baghdad today when three car bombs ripped apart a crowded marketplace in a Shi’ite neighborhood, setting off secondary explosions and killing at least 71 persons, police said. A suicide bombing nearby killed at least nine.

The blasts shattered the city center on the first anniversary, according to the Muslim lunar calendar, of the bombing last year of the important Shi’ite Golden Dome shrine in Samarra, north of the capital. That attack by al Qaeda in Iraq set off the sectarian bloodletting that has turned Baghdad and much of central Iraq into a battleground.

The suicide bomber detonated an explosives-filled vest in a crowd near a popular falafel restaurant in the Bab al-Sharqi area, not far from Shorja, police said, adding that 19 persons also were wounded in that blast.

About a half-hour later, as the government called for a short period of commemoration for last year’s shrine attack, three parked car bombs exploded within seconds of each other, targeting two buildings about 200 yards apart. One of the cars was parked near the entrance to a parking garage under one of the buildings.

Shops and stalls were obliterated, and smoke blackened the area, obscuring what had been a sunny day as it rose hundreds of feet into the air above the market near the east bank of the Tigris River.

Ambulances and pickup trucks rushed many of the nearly 165 wounded to nearby al-Kindi hospital in the largely Shi’ite neighborhood, which has been hit by a series of deadly bombings this year. The sectarian killings have continued despite a new U.S. and Iraqi operation aimed at stopping the violence set off by the Feb. 22 bombing of the Samarra mosque.

Some roads and bridges in Baghdad were cordoned off yesterday after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for a 15-minute sit-in to commemorate the Samarra bombing.

Mr. al-Maliki called on government offices and all citizens to “chant ‘God is great’ in all the mosques and to ring bells in all the churches.”

About 16,000 demonstrators flooded the main street of the southern city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, marching toward two Shi’ite shrines there. Participants rallied with placards reading “No to terrorism” and “Iraqis are one people, whether Shi’ite or Sunni.”

Hundreds of policemen guarded the area.

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