Militants strapped a pair of mentally retarded women with explosives and blew them up by remote control in two pet bazaars on Friday, killing at least 91 people in the deadliest day since Washington began pouring extra troops into the capital last spring.
Brigadier General Qassim al-Moussawi, Iraq's chief military spokesman in Baghdad, said the women had Down syndrome and may not have known they were on a suicide mission.
The tactic would support US claims that al-Qaeda in Iraq may be increasingly desperate and running short of able-bodied men willing or available for such missions.
As of early yesterday, Iraqi officials were unable to break down the higher death toll in the two bombings. The police and interior ministry officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said the bombings showed that a resilient al-Qaeda has "found a different, deadly way" to try to destabilize Iraq.
"There is nothing they won't do if they think it will work in creating carnage and the political fallout that comes from that," he said in an interview at the US State Department.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the bombing in Iraq proved al-Qaeda was "the most brutal and bankrupt of movements" and would strengthen Iraqi resolve to reject terrorism.
Earlier, officials had said the first bomber was detonated about 10:20am in the central al-Ghazl market.
Four police and hospital officials said at least 46 people were killed and more than 100 people were wounded.
Local police said the woman wearing the bomb sold cream in the mornings at the market and was known to locals as "the crazy lady."
The weekly pet bazaar had been bombed several times during the war; but with violence declining in the capital, the market had regained popularity as a shopping district and place to stroll on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.
But this Friday offered a scene of carnage straight out of the worst days of the conflict. Firefighters scooped up debris scattered among pools of blood, clothing and pigeon carcasses.
The attacks were the latest in a series of violent incidents that frayed a gossamer of Iraqi confidence in the permanence of recent security gains.
The US military in Iraq issued a statement that shared "the outrage of the Iraqi people, and we condemn the brutal enemy responsible for these attacks, which bear the hallmarks of being carried out by al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani confirmed the death toll was about 70 and said the attacks were the work of committed by terrorists motivated by revenge and "to show that they are still able to stop the march of history and of our people toward reconciliation."
But Navy Commander Scott Rye, a US military spokesman, gave far lower casualty figures -- seven killed and 23 wounded in the first bombing, and 20 killed and 30 wounded in the second.
He confirmed, however, both attacks were carried out by women wearing explosives vests and said the attacks appeared coordinated and likely the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
While involving women in such deadly activity violates cultural taboos in Iraq, the US military has warned that al-Qaeda is recruiting women and young people as suicide attackers because militants are increasingly desperate to thwart security measures. Syria also has reportedly tightened its border with Iraq, a main transit point for incoming foreign bombers.
Women in Iraq often wear abayas, the black Islamic robe, and avoid thorough searches at checkpoints because men are not allowed to touch them and there are too few female police.
While astonishingly brutal, the use of the mentally disabled in suicide bombings is not unprecedented in Iraq. In January 2005, Iraq's interior minister said that insurgents used a disabled child in a suicide attacker on election day. Police at the scene of the bombing said the child appeared to have Down syndrome.
Many teenage boys were among the casualties in the al-Ghazl bombing on Friday, officials said.
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