Surge in violence follows Premier Al-Maliki's security initiative
DUBAI: In the worst incident of violence this year, at least 78 persons were killed when two car bombs exploded in a crowded market dominated by Shia residents.
The blasts took place in quick succession in the crowded Haraj market early in the afternoon on Monday. The attacks followed last week's bombing outside a university in the capital, in which 70 persons were killed.
Shortly after the explosions, gunfire could be heard from the mixed Sunni-Shia Bab-al-Sharki district, on the east bank of the river Tigris. The area one of the poorest in Baghdad has suffered repeated attacks, and symptomises the growing sectarian rift in Iraq.
Hospital sources said between 100 and 160 persons were injured in the attacks.
At least 12 vehicles were set ablaze. Haraj market is packed with traders dealing with used electronic goods, watches, clothes and medicines.
The surge in violence follows the unveiling of a security plan by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Around 3,200 American troops have also arrived in the Iraqi capital, in a bid to control the violence.
Analysts point out that after this influx, the Americans are likely to target guerilla strongholds in areas such as the Haifa street, which is close to the "Green Zone" seat of the U.S establishment and Iraqi administration in Baghdad.
Iraqi guerillas have used areas in and around the street for bombing the three bridges on the Tigris, which connect eastern and western parts of the city. Once the bridges are secure and an assured supply route is established, it is expected that Shia strongholds such as Sadr city would be targeted. The Mehdi army the armed wing loyal to anti-American Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr dominates Sadr city.
"We realise that the American strategy is against our militias. We are ready to lay our weapons down if the Government offers security," AFP quoted a source close to Mr. Al Sadr as saying.
On the U.S. side, 46 troops have been killed in January so far.