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100 More Lives End Violently in Iraq

Car bombings kill dozens in two cities, and nearly 30 bodies are found around Baghdad.

July 24, 2006|Borzou Daragahi and Raheem Salman | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — Two car bombings killed nearly 60 people Sunday, many of them young men scraping out livings as street-side produce vendors, as violence overshadowed a day of U.N.-sponsored peacemaking talks. About 40 other people died or were found slain in other incidents.

Meanwhile, former President Saddam Hussein, facing the possibility of the death penalty on charges of mass murder and human rights abuses, fell ill and was hospitalized during the 17th day of a hunger strike he has undertaken to protest conditions for the defense team.

Fighting between Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims and minority Sunni Muslim Arabs has reached a fever pitch.

Sunday's first cataclysmic car bomb struck a busy outdoor market in the Shiite district of Sadr City, the vast eastern Baghdad slum that is a stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Al Mahdi militia.

At least 37 civilians were killed and dozens more injured, police and hospital officials said.

The other car bomb struck a crowded marketplace near the main courthouse in downtown Kirkuk, the oil-rich northern city contested by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. At least 21 people were killed and more than 100 injured. The victims included women and their children out grocery shopping.

The attacks came as Iraq's political leaders attempted to jump-start a process of reconciliation among the country's warring factions. Iraqis hope such talks can stem a further descent into civil war.

But the conference, held in a hotel inside the heavily protected Green Zone, failed to draw or include representatives from insurgent and militia groups fueling much of the violence.

Some U.S. analysts and Iraqi policymakers have pushed for a broad amnesty to draw insurgents into the political process. But so far reconciliation plans have amounted to talk about establishing committees that would discuss possible "mechanisms," said Pascale Warda, a human rights advisor to parliament.

Many of Iraq's political leaders were in exile during Hussein's rule and are viewed with contempt by armed groups and as ineffective outsiders by much of the Iraqi public.

Victims of the Sadr City bombing, which residents attributed to a suicide bomber, included poor Shiite teenagers who operate vending stands selling groceries to support their families during summer break. Officials said 70 people were wounded in the bombing.

Among those killed were Ali and Rahman Sayid Mousawi, brothers ages 16 and 14, who were selling candy and soft drinks at their stand.

Outside their Sadr City home, relatives wept as their slender bodies were placed into makeshift wooden coffins and strapped side by side atop a minibus for the perilous trip through Sunni Arab country to the Valley of Peace cemetery in Najaf, where Shiites bury many of their dead. Their father beat his chest and wailed in misery, his white dishdasha robe covered in his sons' blood.

"There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God," the mourners chanted.

Mustafa Fadhil spent the day scouring the bomb site for remains of his brother Muhsin, a grape vendor whose stall was close to the explosion.

"There was nothing left except part of his white shirt covered with blood and grapes scattered here and there," he said. "I did not find him. I went to the morgues and the hospitals, but I did not find him."

Nearby hospitals were flooded with patients, including 10-year-old Ahmed Karim, whose head was bandaged. His 7-year-old sister also had head injuries and was in the neurosurgery ward.

"I was going to visit my grandfather," he said. "We went to buy some fruit when the explosion happened."

Shortly after the marketplace blast, a roadside bomb near the City Council headquarters in Sadr City killed eight and injured 20, all civilians, an Iraqi army press release said. Gunmen also killed three members of the Shiite-dominated police force at a checkpoint in southwestern Baghdad on Sunday morning. The bodies of six Shiite men were discovered in various parts of Baghdad, shot execution style.

Hours before the bombings, U.S. soldiers raided eastern and northwestern Baghdad homes to arrest members of Shiite militias allegedly involved in "the operation of 'death squad' cells," a press release said. At least one person was killed and four injured in the 2:30 a.m. Sadr City raid, police said.

Many U.S. and Iraqi officials say Shiite militias, many with ties to the highest echelons of political power, represent a greater danger to Iraqi security than Sunni insurgents. At least 21 bodies of men believed to be Sunni Arabs were discovered in western and central Baghdad on Sunday, all of them shot in the head and bearing signs of torture in the style attributed to Shiite militiamen with possible ties to the Interior Ministry.

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