Thu, Sep 23, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Baghdad engulfed by violence, bombings

AFP , BAGHDAD

Baghdad was engulfed in violence yesterday as 21 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in a car bomb attack and US-led offensives on Shiite and Sunni rebel pockets in the capital.

An official from radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement said 15 people were killed and 52 wounded in an apparent push by the US military to reclaim parts of the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.

Naim al-Qaabi described the ongoing raids as "the most devastating operation in Sadr City" since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April last year.

US Major General Peter Chiarelli said in a statement that the operation was aimed at restoring stability in Baghdad by improving the living conditions of Iraqis.

"I think the key to improving the security situation in Baghdad is giving people hope through the execution of our large projects to fix the infrastructure," he said.

The coalition is keen to keep a lid on violence in the capital in the run-up to the January general elections and quell growing discontent among the population by providing much-delayed basic services such as sewers, water and electricity.

A correspondent in Sadr City said gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks were still ongoing at midday.

The impoverished district, from which Sadr has drawn most of his support for an anti-coalition rebellion that started in April, is littered with bombs and has become a no-go zone for US troops.

Meanwhile, a suicide car bomb targeting Iraqis queuing up to join the national guard ripped through a busy shopping area in the heart of Baghdad yesterday morning, police and witnesses told reporters on the scene.

"A suicide car bomb rammed into a group of people gathered to sign up for the Iraqi National Guard" at a shopping complex on the central al-Rabih Street, a police officer said.

"The suicide bomber drove onto the sidewalk and detonated his charge," he said.

Medical sources at the Yarmuk hospital said at least six people were killed and 54 wounded in the latest attack, which took place just a few meters away from the site where another car bomb was defused on Tuesday.

US Army Lieutenant Charles Heaton confirmed that yesterday's attack was a suicide car bomb.

A dozen vehicles in the vicinity of the blast were turned into charred shells and several shopfronts destroyed, and panicked residents ran through the debris and smoke to rescue the wounded.

A reporter saw people burying body parts on the median strip which cuts the boulevard in two.

"I saw about 30 to 40 ING (Iraqi National Guard) recruits lining up and at about 10:20am the explosion went off," said a witness who runs an office on the first floor of the shopping complex.

"I felt the whole building shake and I thought the walls were going to collapse on me," he added.

Fresh fighting in the Sunni stronghold of Haifa Street in Baghdad erupted overnight, but there were no immediate reports of any casualties.

Sporadic but heavy gunfire was heard in the central neighborhood, which is a mixture of posh high-rises and impoverished alleyways harboring a loose alliance of Saddam Hussein loyalists and Islamic insurgents.

Violence in the capital was compounded by more bloodshed elsewhere in the country.

The police chief of the northern town of Tall Afar, where US and Iraqi forces have recently conducted raids to crack down on Iraqi and foreign insurgents, was wounded in an assassination attempt, police said.

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