America has long charged that the SGs were rogue elements of the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr being trained, equipped, and sheltered by neighboring Iran and responsible for sophisticated and lethal roadside bombings using armor-piercing explosives that have killed many US soldiers.
It has rarely blamed these groups, let alone specific members, for the type of mass casualty bombings that became a trademark of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Colonel Stover said that nearly 200 to 300 pounds of "an unknown bulk explosive" were used in the attack but that "the type of vehicle and material leads us to ascertain this was not AQI."
The US military has stepped up its media and public relations campaign against SGs. It now calls them outlaws and fringe elements that have no connection to the Mahdi Army following a government negotiated truce with Mr. Sadr last month. That cease-fire ended weeks of fighting with his militia that left more than 1,000 dead in his Baghdad bastion of Sadr City.
The latest US accusations are also significant because the Mahdi Army is generally regarded by many Shiites as being the protector of the community and faith against Sunni extremists.
At the scene of the bombing Wednesday, Iraqi civil defense crews were still frantically trying to remove the dead from under the debris of concrete and twisted metal at a multilevel building in the market that bore the brunt of the explosion.
US soldiers stood nearby inspecting the devastation. A group of women veiled in black descended on the scene and began to sob and slap their faces in mourning after learning that the body of a relative may be beneath the rubble.
Most of the dead owned simple market stalls across from the building where the explosive-laden vehicle had been parked, according to witnesses.
Some of the residents interviewed had mixed views as to who may be responsible for the bombing.