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Female suicide bombers shatter Baghdad calm

Suicide vests, not car bombs, are latest shift in Al Qaeda tactics in Iraq, says US general.

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At least 73 Iraqis were killed and scores wounded in suicide bomb attacks against two popular pet markets in Baghdad on Friday, shattering months of relative calm and normalcy in the capital.

The bombings, which bore all the hallmarks of previous attacks attributed to Al Qaeda-linked militants, came days after the new commander of US troops in Baghdad had warned that the terror group may strike in a more brutal way.

The markets hit are frequented mostly by poor Shiite Muslims, prompting some observers to warn they might reignite sectarian reprisal killings, which had dropped significantly in recent months. Baghdad's relative calm in recent months is attributed to the surge in the number of US troops, the stepped up operations and presence of Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, and a freeze ordered by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on the activities of his Mahdi Army militia.

"The vengeful terrorists are committing these crimes to give the impression that they can turn back the clock and derail our people's efforts towards reconciliation," said President Jalal Talabani in a statement that put the death toll from both attacks at about 70.

"This horrific new crime is strongly condemned and must be confronted and condemned unequivocally by all."

The mid-morning attacks occurred on a sunny and crisp winter day at the start of the two-day weekend here. They come at a time when Baghdadis have been venturing out in greater numbers each weekend, visiting open-air markets, parks, and restaurants. This freedom of movement and confidence in the security situation was boosted at the end of 2007, when the government lifted a Friday daytime curfew to guard against potential attacks on mosques, which are usually filled with prayer-goers on this day.

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