Multiple suicide bombers struck in predominantly Shiite markets in Baghdad and in a town north of the capital, killing at least 104 people and wounding scores on Thursday â€” the day that new US Ambassador Ryan Crocker took office.
Two of the suicide bombers struck a market in the Shaab neighbourhood of northeastern Baghdad at 6 pm (9.30 pm IST), killing at least 61 people and wounding 40, police and security officials said.
About the same time, three suicide car bombers attacked a market in the town of Khalis north of Baghdad, killing at least 43 people and wounding 86, according to police and officials in the predominantly Shiite town.
The first attacker in Khalis drove his explosives-laden car into the crowded area, followed in five-minute intervals by the other two bombers, who apparently were aiming at rescue crews and onlookers gathering in the aftermath, police said.
Police said the bombers came from two separate directions.
Khalis is in volatile Diyala province, where fighting has been raging among Sunni insurgents, Shiite militiamen and US and Iraqi troops.
It has been struck by bombings several times in recent months, most recently on Jan. 22 when a bomb followed by a mortar attack struck a market, killing at least 12 people and wounding 29, police said.
A suicide bomber also blew himself up near a Shiite mosque in the town on December 30, 2006 killing nine people and wounding about a dozen.
The Shaab neighbourhood of Baghdad was one of the first targets of US and Iraqi soldiers searching for Shiite militants and weapons in a six-week-old security sweep aimed at stopping the sectarian violence.
It also was the site of a bombing earlier this month that police and the US military said involved the use of two children as decoys. At least eight Iraqis and 28 wounded in that attack, which targeted people cooking food at open-air grills in the street as part of a Shiite Muslim holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad’s death.
At his swearing-in ceremony in the heavily fortified Green Zone, Crocker said he was taking over the “most critical foreign policy mission” facing the US.
Hours before his address, a bomb planted under a parked car tore through a Baghdad market in the mixed al-Bayaa neighbourhood, killing three and wounding 26.
About the same time, a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in the restive town of Mahmoudiyah, 30 km south of Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 19.
The mosque and four adjacent stores were slightly damaged, said a police officer at the scene who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
In Baqouba, an insurgent stronghold 55 km northeast of Baghdad, 15 masked gunmen sneaked up on four policemen guarding the local government’s agriculture department offices, disarming them and later blowing up the one-story building, police said.
Such attacks are not uncommon and are designed to disrupt government activity or deny US and Iraqi troops a potential base during combat against the insurgents.