BAGHDAD (Reuters) â€” Bombers killed 65 people, many of them young women students, at a Baghdad university Tuesday on one of the city’s bloodiest days in weeks.
In all, at least 100 were killed in bombings and a shooting in the capital on a day when the United Nations said more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians died in violence last year. Four US soldiers were also killed in a bomb attack in northern Iraq.
The Shiite prime minister blamed the latest bloodshed in Baghdad on followers of Saddam Hussein. His fellow Sunni Arabs are angry at the botched execution of two aides on Monday, two weeks after the ousted leader was himself hanged amid sectarian taunts from official observers, captured on an illicit video.
A car bomb tore through students gathered outside the Mustansiriya University in central Baghdad, most of them women waiting for vehicles to take them home. A suicide bomber then walked into the panicked crowd at a rear entrance, killing more.
“The followers of the ousted regime have been dealt a blow and their dreams buried forever,” Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said in a statement.
“So Saddamists and terrorists now target the world of knowledge and committed this act today against the innocent students of Mustansiriya University.”
He vowed to catch the killers and see justice done.
The education ministry, whose employees and students have been frequent targets of what the United Nations report called extremists, issued a public appeal for blood for the 110 wounded and said the university would close until next week.
Rescue workers picked through smouldering wreckage and human remains as police pickup trucks bore away casualties.
The bombings bore the marks of Sunni Arab insurgents. Many Sunnis were outraged by the latest hanging following a trial for crimes against humanity and saw the decapitation of his brother Barzan Ibrahim Tikriti by the tightening noose as an act of revenge, not the mishap the Shiite-led government said it was.
Mourners, most of them Sunni and angry, visited the two fresh graves in the village where Saddam himself was buried.
The United Nations, in its latest two-monthly human rights report on Iraq, said data from hospitals and morgues put the total civilian death toll for 2006 at 34,452 â€” 94 each day.
Comparable figures for previous years were not available but officials agree sectarian bloodshed has surged in the past year.
“Without significant progress on the rule of law, sectarian violence will continue indefinitely and eventually spiral out of control,” the UN human rights chief in Iraq, Gianni Magazzeni, told a news conference, chiding Iraqi leaders for not stopping killers operating with and within their security forces.
Maliki’s government, which branded the last UN report grossly exaggerated, banned its officials from giving casualty statistics and the United States, which has run Iraq for four years, declined to vouch for the UN data.
“Unfortunately it is a war,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said. “The actual number, whatever it is, is too high.” Maliki and US President George W. Bush are preparing a security crackdown in Baghdad, involving Iraqi and some 20,000 American reinforcements, which is widely portrayed as a last chance to save Iraq from a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites that could draw in Iran and Arab states on opposing sides.
Leaders of the Shiite majority say the plan to stifle gunmen with extra force, lasting six months or more, must break Shiite factions as well as Sunni rebels. Maliki has made that pledge before but Americans critical of Bush’s new troop increase say they are sceptical he can deliver this time.
However, the Shiite deputy speaker of parliament said the message truly had been understood by Maliki and others and added that they expected failure would mean an end to American support for the system that has brought Shiites to power.
“It is very, very dangerous. One consequence may be a collapse of government,” Khaled Attiya told Reuters.
Tasting power in the Sunni-dominated Arab world for the first time in centuries, the Shiite Islamist establishment is anxious not to lose its hold on Iraq and its vast oil wealth.
“I think all the Shiite parties are now aware of how dangerous the issue is,” Attiya said. “We don’t have a choice.
“Bush… is still supporting the political process and the government. But I don’t think that if this plan doesn’t work…he can continue.”