Baghdad: Militants struck back on 18 February 2007 in their first major blow against a U.S.-led security clampdown in Baghdad with car bombs that killed at least 63 people, left scores injured and sent a bloody calling card to officials boasting that extremist factions were on the run.
The attacks in mostly Shiite areas — twin explosions in an open-air market that claimed 62 lives and a third blast that killed one — were a sobering reminder of the huge challenges confronting any effort to rattle the well-armed and well-hidden insurgents.
Instead, it was the Iraqi commanders of the security sweep feeling the sting.
Just a few hours before the blasts, Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar led reporters on a tour of the neighborhood near the marketplace and promised to “chase the terrorists out of Baghdad.” On Saturday, the Iraqi spokesman for the plan, Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, said violence had plummeted 80% in the capital.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the bombing as a desperate act by “terrorists” and “criminals” who sense they are being squeezed.
“These crimes confirm the defeat of these perpetrators and their failure in confronting our armed forces, which are determined to cleanse the dens of terrorism,” al-Maliki said in a statement.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the bombings underscore the “increasing desperation felt by criminals” and would only serve to “galvanize Iraqi forces and their coalition partners.”
U.S. military chiefs have been much more cautious than Iraqi leaders in forecasting success. They have insisted the security drive, begun last week, may take months to make clear gains and that counter-punches from militants were likely every step of the way.
The ones dealt on Sunday came from the militants’ favoured weapon of the moment: parked cars rigged with explosives.
The first blast tore through a produce market in the mostly Shiite area of New Baghdad, toppling the wooden stalls and leaving pools of blood and vegetables trampled in the chaos. Minutes later, another car bomb exploded near a row of stores.
More than 129 people were injured, including many women who were shopping, said police and rescue officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Victims were carried to hospitals on makeshift stretchers or in the arms of rescuers.
Another car bomb in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City left at least one dead and 10 wounded, police said.