- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

BAGHDAD | Twin car bombs ravaged a popular shopping area in Baghdad’s biggest Shi’ite district Wednesday, killing at least 41 people in another powerful strike by suspected Sunni insurgents seeking a return to sectarian chaos.

In less than a week, blasts have struck the heart of Shi’ite traditions and unity: Shi’ite pilgrims, a revered shrine and now teeming Sadr City in attacks that have claimed nearly 200 lives.

The once-powerful Shi’ite militias have so far largely held back from retaliations, but anger was seething in the Sadr City slums.

Scowling young men - joined by women shrouded in black - gathered around the bloodstained pavement and the twisted hulks of the cars, which had been parked about 100 yards apart near a restaurant and an ice cream stand.

Protesters later threw stones and empty soda cans at a vehicle carrying Iraqi soldiers, who they claim failed to protect them despite a security cordon around the district. Soldiers shot into the air to disperse the crowd.

It was the deadliest bombing attack inside sprawling Sadr City since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces seized control of the area in late May. The offensive broke the hold of the feared Mahdi Army, a network of Shi’ite militiamen loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The explosions went off in quick succession, tearing through a crowded outdoor market where vendors peddle everything from bicycles and motorcycle parts to birds and small pets.

Saadi Rashid, 35, said he had just bought some new clothes for his children when the blast went off, sending shrapnel piercing through his shoulder and his leg.

“I saw my blood covering the clothes that I had planned to take to my kids,” he said from his hospital bed.

Officers said they found another explosives-laden car parked nearby in Sadr City and detonated it without incident. Six other potential car bombs were found elsewhere in the capital, including three in Sadr City, according to the Iraqi military.

A parked car bomb apparently targeting an Iraqi army patrol exploded hours later in the northern Shi’ite stronghold of Hurriyah, killing two people and wounding eight others, police said.

The increase in high-profile attacks in recent weeks has brought questions about the ability of Iraq’s forces to hold security gains. The U.S. military has begun pulling back from small outposts in the cities as a step toward full withdrawal from urban areas by the end of June and from the entire country by the end of 2011.

In all, at least 432 people, including 80 Iranian pilgrims, have been killed in violence so far this month, compared with 335 people in March, 283 in February and 242 in January, according to an Associated Press tally.

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