- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2007

BAGHDAD — The dream run of Iraq’s national soccer team captivated an otherwise despairing nation. But even in its moment of joy — the Iraqis are in the Asian Cup finals for the first time ever — violence struck yesterday.

Two suicide bombings killed at least 50 cheering, dancing, flag-waving Iraqis celebrating their national triumph. More than 130 other revelers were wounded.

The attacks bore the hallmarks of Sunni militants who have fueled the violence tearing at the fragile fabric of Iraq for nearly four years. But these bombings, in parked cars less than an hour apart in separate corners of Baghdad, appeared designed to gain attention rather than target a particular sect.

An ice cream parlor was the backdrop for the first attack, at about 6:30 p.m. A suicide attacker exploded his car in a crowd of people cheering near the al-Riwad shop in the predominantly Sunni Mansour neighborhood in west Baghdad, according to the Interior Ministry. At least 30 people were killed and 75 were wounded, the ministry said.

The second suicide car bombing took place in the midst of dozens of vehicles filled with revelers near an Iraqi army checkpoint in the eastern district of Ghadeer, where an uneasy mix of Sunnis, Shi”ites and Christians live. At least 20 people died and nearly 60 were wounded, the ministry said.

The barbarity of yesterday’s bombings will be remembered for what they abruptly ended.

Qusai Bilal, a 35-year-old Sunni grocer in Ghadeer, was watching the unusual sight of a street party outside his store. Young people danced and waved flags when tragedy struck.

“A huge blast occurred and, in a second, converted the glorious scene to a black one,” he said.

A total of 88 persons were killed or found dead nationwide, according to police, morgue and hospital officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release information.

Politically, Iraq’s largest bloc of Sunni politicians suspended membership in the government, accusing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of leading a sectarian administration.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, chairman of the Accordance Front, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview late yesterday that the action was meant as a message not only to Mr. al-Maliki.

“We wanted to tell the whole world including the Arab world, the U.S., Britain and the European Union … that the al-Maliki government is sectarian and does not respond to the needs of others,” he said.

The Sunni ministers already were boycotting Cabinet meetings but said yesterday they now will not even go to their offices.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, a coalition of three Sunni parties, has six Cabinet seats and 44 of 275 seats in parliament.

The front gave Mr. al-Maliki a week to meet its demands or see ministers quit entirely.

In April, five ministers loyal to radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr quit the government over Mr. al-Maliki’s refusal to set a timeline for American forces to leave Iraq.

Mr. al-Maliki faces intense scrutiny in Washington, where Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are required to report to Congress by Sept. 15 on progress in Iraq.

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