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Car bomb kills at least 8 at busy Baghdad square

Times Staff Writer

A car bomb exploded in the city’s busiest intersection Friday, killing at least eight people and injuring 64, underscoring the violence still facing Iraq despite a steep drop in attacks in recent months.

Like a similar explosion last month at a popular pet market, the blast at central Baghdad’s crowded Tahrir Square came on a day when many Iraqis were running errands and patronizing local vendors.

A 6-year-old boy and two teenagers were among those killed in the explosion, not far from one of the heavily guarded main entrances to the Green Zone, police said. Officials provided conflicting numbers, with some putting the death toll as high as 14.

Witnesses told police that street vendors noticed a man in his late 20s parking his car near their booths. They asked him to leave for security reasons.

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He told them he wouldn’t be more than five minutes, bought some items, loaded them into his car, then disappeared into the crowd before the car exploded, damaging several vehicles as well as fruit and vegetable stalls, police said.

“I saw this great blaze, and when the initial shock subsided, I ran toward the area,” said Haydar Muhsin, 37, a minibus driver who estimated that he was a little more than 100 yards away.

“I immediately saw two charred corpses in addition to others who were slashed by shrapnel.”

Muhsin said it wasn’t until later that he realized he had suffered wounds on his upper arm and neck. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, but his injuries weren’t serious.

Buoyed by the lull, the municipality has put special effort into rehabilitating the square, its gardens and a monument made by Iraqi artist Jawad Saleem.

A spokesman for the city said areas that are fixed up are often targeted soon afterward.

“When I watch TV, I do get angry,” spokesman Hakeem Abed Zahra said. “We will beat them. We lost 1,000 of our workers on duty in Iraqi streets, but although human lives are irreplaceable, we will continue our loyal commitment and send our workers back to Tahrir Square to fix what these terrorists have destroyed.”

Elsewhere, the U.S. military said five suspected insurgents were killed and 14 detained in an operation in central and northern Iraq.

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Four of the suspects were killed north of Muqdadiya, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. When troops arrived, the suspects fled from a building into nearby palm groves, where they were attacked from the air.

A fifth suspect, an alleged cell leader for the Sunni insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq involved in providing weapons and planning attacks, was killed near Salman Pak, southeast of Baghdad.

In the predominantly Shiite Hurriya neighborhood of Baghdad, some residents reported being threatened by members of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army, warning them against joining so-called Awakening Councils, also known as concerned local citizens, groups of Sunni Arabs who have joined the U.S. military and Iraqi army in fighting insurgents.

Witnesses said the men established a checkpoint at the entrance to the neighborhood.

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Hurriya is adjacent to the mostly Sunni Adil neighborhood, which has formed an Awakening Council.

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

Times staff writers and special correspondents in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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