- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

1:44 p.m.

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber breached Baghdad’s heavy security presence again today, killing a dozen people in a mostly Shi’ite district a day after more than 230 people died in one of the war’s deadliest episodes of violence.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the violence in Baghdad an “open battle” — nine weeks into a U.S.-led effort to pacify the capital’s streets.

Today’s bomber struck within half a mile of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s home in the mostly Shi’ite Karradah district where one of Wednesday’s bombs exploded. Mr. Talabani was not believed to have been the target.

The bombing killed at least 12 people and wounded 34, police said. Two Iraqi soldiers were among the fatalities.

With several thousand U.S. soldiers still expected to arrive in Iraq and U.S. commanders urging patience, the Baghdad security plan was already showing signs of weakness. One week ago, a suicide bomber slipped through barriers around the U.S.-guarded Green Zone, killing an Iraqi lawmaker inside the parliament building.

The same day, a truck bomber collapsed a landmark bridge across the Tigris River, killing 11 people and sending cars careening into the water.

Today’s bombing hit hours before U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived on an unannounced visit, saying he planned to tell Iraqi leaders that America’s commitment to a military buildup in the country was not open-ended.

“It is an open battle and will not be the last in the war we are fighting for the sake of the nation, dignity, honor and the people,” Mr. al-Maliki said in a speech at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of his Islamic Dawa Party. “[The attackers] have proven their spite by targeting humanity.”

Meanwhile, grieving relatives retrieved bodies from hospital morgues and passers-by gawked at the giant crater left by a market bombing in one of Wednesday’s four attacks.

Many of the more than 230 Iraqis killed or found dead nationwide were buried in quiet ceremonies before today’s noon prayer, according to Muslim tradition. Other bodies laid in refrigeration containers, still unidentified, at morgues across Baghdad.

In Sadr City, relatives flocked to Imam Ali Hospital to claim the bodies of loved ones. A man held his shirt over his mouth and nose as he moved past decaying bodies. Nearby, four men loaded a casket onto a minibus.

The most devastating of Wednesday’s blasts struck the Sadriyah market as workers were leaving for the day, destroying a lineup of minibuses that came to pick them up. At least 127 people were killed and 148 wounded, including men who were rebuilding the market after a Feb. 3 bombing left 137 dead.

Today, collective wakes were being held for multiple victims in huge tents erected in narrow alleys and at nearby mosques within view of the blast site. Onlookers gathered around a crater about 3 yards wide and 1 yard deep, left by the force of the explosion.

One of them, 38-year-old Akram Abdullah, who owns a clothing shop about 200 yards away, fell to his knees in tears.

“It’s a tragedy — devastation covers the whole area. It’s as if a volcano erupted here,” said Mr. Abdullah, the father of three boys.

“Charred dead bodies are still inside the twisted cars, some cars are still covered with ashes,” he said, describing the scene before him in a phone interview.

Mr. Abdullah, whose shop was damaged by flying shrapnel, said he took part in 18 funerals this morning. “I cried a lot,” he said.

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