- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

BAGHDAD — Thunderous car bombs shattered a crowded marketplace in the heart of Baghdad yesterday, triggering secondary explosions, engulfing an eight-story building in flames and killing at least 78 persons in the latest in a series of similar attacks aimed at the country’s Shi’ite majority.

The blasts in three parked cars obliterated shops and stalls and left bodies scattered among mannequins and other debris in pools of blood. Dense smoke blackened the area and rose hundreds of feet from the market district on the east bank of the Tigris River. Small fires, fueled by clothing and other goods, burned for hours in the rubble-strewn street as firefighters battled blazes in two buildings.

The attack appeared timed to coincide with the first anniversary — on the Muslim lunar calendar — of the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in the town of Samarra north of Baghdad, an al Qaeda provocation that unleashed the torrent of sectarian bloodletting that has gripped the capital for months.

The bombings yesterday wrecked the Shorja market, Baghdad’s oldest, a day after U.S. and Iraqi forces temporarily sealed an adjacent neighborhood. The operation was part of the latest Baghdad security push to which President Bush has committed an additional 21,500 American troops.

Nationwide, 133 persons were killed or found dead yesterday, according to police reports. About 30 minutes before the attack on the market, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vest in a crowd near a popular falafel restaurant in the nearby Bab al-Sharqi area. Nine persons were killed and 19 were wounded.

A 15-minute period of commemoration in the capital marking the 2006 attack on the Golden Mosque had just ended when the attack on the market occurred.

The sound of two of the blasts was caught on tape as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was delivering a speech live on television from the Cabinet building in the heavily fortified Green Zone at the end of the commemoration.

The Shi’ite prime minister didn’t flinch — though his bodyguards did — as he called for unity and expressed optimism about the U.S.-Iraqi security sweep that officials said will gain momentum this week.

Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told al Iraqiya state television that three suspects — an Iraqi and two foreigners — were arrested in the attack on the marketplace.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, some roads and bridges were closed after Mr. al-Maliki called for government offices to set aside time to remember the Samarra bombing. That attack occurred Feb. 22, 2006, according to the Western calendar.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, urged the government to rebuild the shrine, whose golden dome was partially torn off by the blast. The compound has since been locked and guarded by Iraqi police.

About 16,000 demonstrators flooded the main street of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, marching toward two Shi’ite shrines in that holy southern city. In the capital, hundreds of men chanted and beat their chests and drums as they carried a replica of the mosque.

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