Blast kills 5 visiting hospital in Baghdad’s Sadr City
As people flocked Saturday to a hospital in a Shiite Muslim district of the capital to visit loved ones injured in recent attacks, a car bomb tore through the crowd of well-wishers, killing five people and wounding two dozen others.
Bombings, including the deadliest such attack of the 4-year-old war, have killed hundreds of people in Shiite areas across Iraq over the last week.
U.S. and Iraqi officials believe the attacks are part of an effort by Sunni Muslim-led insurgents to provoke violence from Shiite militias and to derail a security crackdown in Baghdad.
In addition to the blast outside the hospital in Baghdad’s Sadr City, attackers ambushed a van carrying laborers from an Iraqi army base outside the northern city of Kirkuk, killing at least eight. Four were reported to be from the same family.
Another car bomb killed four people and injured 23 who were in line to buy gasoline in the predominantly Shiite town of Hillah, south of Baghdad. A witness, Ammar Mousa, said the car had aroused suspicions two days earlier when the driver tried to park near the long queue and people yelled at him to move.
Meanwhile, the government nearly doubled the official death toll in two truck bombings Tuesday in the northern city of Tall Afar, near the Syrian border.
The initial estimate was 85, but Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said Saturday that after the last bodies were pulled from the rubble of a Shiite residential neighborhood, the total stood at 152, making the attack the deadliest since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Khalaf told a news conference in Baghdad that the bombings, one of them a massive blast that caused most of the casualties, injured about 350 people, destroyed 100 homes and left a 75-foot-wide crater. Iraqi officials have blamed Sunni militants of Al Qaeda in Iraq for the attack.
Last week was the most violent since the security crackdown in Baghdad was launched in mid-February, but Iraqi officials and the new U.S. envoy to Iraq pledged to press ahead with efforts to stem sectarian strife.
“We’ve seen encouraging signs of progress.... We have to keep moving forward,” Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, who was sworn in Thursday, told reporters.
At the same time, President Jalal Talabani indicated the government was engaging in preliminary dialogue with some insurgent organizations.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the previous American ambassador, confirmed this month that U.S. and Iraqi officials had cultivated contacts with Sunni militants.
“There are many armed groups that have started talks with the Iraqi government,” Talabani told reporters Saturday. He provided no details.
The bodies of 10 men killed execution-style were found dumped in various locations in Baghdad on Saturday, hospital and morgue officials said.
Times staff writers Suhail Ahmad, Said Rifai, Zeena Kareem and Raheem Salman contributed to this report.