Bombs ripped through crowds of Iraqi shoppers stocking up on sweets and other delicacies ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, killing at least five people, police said today.
The carnage in the Shurja wholesale market, Baghdad’s oldest and largest, marked the second time in as many days that open-air bazaars have been targeted, the latest attacks in a surge of violence over the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ends on Sunday for Sunnis.
The dead toll in Saturday’s bomb and mortar attack on a market in Mahmoudiyah, just south of the capital, rose to 19 on Sunday, with scores injured, said Lt. Mohammed Khayun, a police spokesman.
The United Nations estimates about 100 Iraqi civilians are killed each day.
Alongside the soaring death toll among Iraqis, 78 US troops have died this month, surpassing the year’s previous monthly high of 76 in April.
With more than a week left in the month, October is on course to be the deadliest month for American service members in two years, a development US officials blame partly on the increased vulnerability of American forces during a major two-month security sweep in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, US officials sought to play-down an unusually candid assessment of the security situation made by a senior US State Department official in an interview Saturday with Al-Jazeera television, a pan-Arab satellite channel.
Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said the US had shown ”arrogance” and “stupidity” in Iraq, but added that Washington was ready to talk with any Iraqi group except al-Qaida in Iraq to facilitate national reconciliation.
State department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Fernandez afterward said he didn’t think reports of his comments were an “accurate reflection of what he said”. Asked whether the Bush administration believed that history will show a record of arrogance or stupidity in Iraq, McCormack replied “No.”
A senior Bush administration official questioned whether the remarks had been translated correctly.
“Those comments obviously don’t reflect our position,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because a transcript was not then available for review.
President George W. Bush reviewed Iraq strategy with top war commanders and national security advisers on Friday and Saturday, but indicated little inclination for major changes to an increasingly divisive policy.
“Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging: Our goal is victory,” Bush said in his weekly radio address on Saturday. ”What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal.”
White House is under heavy bipartisan, pre-election pressure for a significant re-examination of the president’s war plan.
Ahead of the traditional Eid al-Fitr feasting, Baghdad’s Shurja market was especially packed with families shopping for food, clothing and household items among a warren of warehouses, stalls and shops.
Three people were killed and eight others injured in an initial bombing, while a second explosion half an hour late injured six more, police Lt. Ali Abbas said.
Another bomb hidden beneath a car killed two people and injured 10 others lined up outside the al-Farasha pastry and sweet shop in Baghdad’s eastern New Baghdad neighbourhood.
About five minutes later, a mortar round crashed into a restaurant about 220 yards away, injuring two civilians and causing extensive damage to the eatery and nearby shops, Abdul-Ghani said.