Two bombs hidden in a box of birds exploded simultaneously yesterday, killing 13 people and wounding 57 at a popular pet market in central Baghdad, police and witnesses said, describing the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital in two months.
The market, which only opens on Fridays, was crowded at the time of the mid-morning blast, the second major bombing to rock Baghdad this week.
"Two IEDs [improvised explosive devices] were hidden in a carton and left in the crowded center of the market," an interior ministry official said. "They exploded simultaneously."
Body parts were strewn across the ground as bystanders piled victims into carts and rushed them to ambulances.
Police said four policemen were among the wounded in the bombing at the Ghazil pet market.
Other police sources said there were reports of a car bomb near a major Baghdad hospital but no details were immediately available.
The pet market blast is the second powerful explosion in Baghdad this week.
On Sunday, nine people were killed and 20 injured when a car bomb exploded in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood as the finance ministry official's convoy passed by.
The market attack was the worst since 32 people were killed by twin car bombs in the predominantly Shiite district of Bayaa in southwestern Baghdad on Sept. 26 and could dent new-found confidence among Iraqis that security is getting better.
Levels of violence have fallen across Iraq in recent months, with the US military saying attacks were down by 55 percent since an extra 30,000 US troops became fully deployed in mid-June.
Something approaching normal life has been starting to return to Baghdad with the lull in bloodshed. Thousands of Iraqis have also been returning to the capital after fleeing the violence.
Iraqis have been going to markets and to restaurants at night, both unheard of at the height of the violence after the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra in February last year unleashed waves of sectarian killings.
"The people were happy the last two weeks because the situation has improved. This explosion disturbs us," said Ghazil market stallholder Salim.
The pet market, a popular weekend attraction, sells a colorful range of creatures from guard dogs and monkeys to parrots, pigeons and tropical fish. A textile and garment market until the 1960s, it turned into an animal market as new traders moved in and quickly became popular with Iraqis, traditionally known as bird-lovers.
It has been targeted several times in the past. Seven people were killed there in a blast in January, a month after three people were killed in another attack.
Bystanders and stallholders covered their noses with masks because of the stench after the bombing. Stallholder Mohammed Abu Salim said police fired into the air after the blast.
"We expected another explosion so we all ran away," he said. "Then we went back to evacuate the wounded. I saw someone at a sandwich booth, he was burned completely, smoke was coming from his body. Another person lost both his legs."
Another witness, who did not give his name, said the bomb went off at about 9am and had been hidden in a box used to keep birds sold at the market. He said he had helped remove about a dozen bodies.
"I have already changed my clothes, they were stained with blood," he said.
The increase in US troops has targeted Shiite militias and al-Qaeda fighters who are blamed for most large bombings in Iraq.