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US Papers Wed: Blast Kills Dozens in Market
Afterwards, “Insurgents Paraded” Down Streets, With Guns, RPGs
By DANIEL W. SMITH 03/11/2009 02:00 AM ET
Just about all the papers have a single story about the recent spike in violence, particularly some high-casualty bombings which call to mind events of past years in Iraq. Common themes are that this is happening amid announced plans to pull US troops from Iraq, and the violent chaos which followed Tuesday's attack.

From Baghdad
The target was a group of tribal elders and security officials, touring a local market in Abu Ghraib after a conference on tribal reconciliation. Such events have been the recent target of other bombings as well. 33 are reported killed, and 46 injured. Two among the dead were Iraqi journalists, covering the event.

Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post has the most compelling account of the bombing, and is the only one to report that gunmen paraded the streets of the al-Amarat neighborhood in their cars with machine guns and RPGs, according to “an official at the National Security Ministry”.
Abdel-Hassan, the police general, who is responsible for tribal affairs in the Interior Ministry, said it was his second visit to Abu Ghraib as part of efforts to ease tensions over Shiite residents returning to the predominantly Sunni area. "I was standing at my stall when the explosion occurred," said Ali Mahmoud, 23. Struck by shrapnel in his chest and right hand, he lost three fingers and spoke with difficulty. "I passed out and woke up to find myself in the hospital," he said.
All the papers mention the chaotic shooting by security forces and officials’ guards which followed the incident. This also occurred two days ago, following a blast outside a Baghdad police academy. Shadid reports a doctor saying that most of the wounded were injured by police gunfire, an account corroborated by several patients in the ward.
Security officials gave different accounts of the shooting. Abdel-Hassan blamed the gunfire on clashes that erupted after the bombing, when his men came under attack from gunmen hiding in the market. "The shooting was still going on behind us," he said.
The New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin and Marc Santora described it as follows. “Wild shooting followed the explosion as emergency medical workers dragged limp bodies to ambulances and sheep stumbled through the blood-streaked wreckage to escape the bullets.“ “I saw some of the corpses were riddled with bullets,” said Abu Jamal al-Zubaie, who lives near the market.
As best he could tell, most of the firing was done by security guards protecting the visiting dignitaries. After the shooting subsided, angry residents rushed to help the wounded and search through the debris. Mr. Zubaie said that “angry locals were pointing at the flesh” of what they said was the bomber, cursing his name. The remains appeared to be those of a male, he said.
“The tensions between the tribes mean that instead of being focused on the threat from Al Qaeda, they are focused on their own rivalries,” said a Parliament member.
Although the number of bombings with double-digit casualties has remained at a relatively low level for the past three months — and Baghdad parks and markets are crowded with families — behind the blast walls a growing unease is palpable.
Rubin and Santora quote Maj. Gen. David Perkins saying “We know that Al Qaeda, although greatly reduced in capability and numbers, still is desperate to maintain relevance here in Iraq.”

Alan Gomez and Aamer Madhani of USA Today spoke to John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert and president of the Center for a New American Security in Washington, who said the same thing, that al-Qaeda was trying to remain relevant.

Gomez and Madhani also report that the White House downplayed any suggestions linking the recent bombings with Obama's plans to withdraw troops, with a peculiar quote. "The previous administration negotiated and signed an agreement that ends not just our combat commitment, but our entire military commitment," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "And I don't think that that would be done if it presented a scenario in which the country would fall into further danger." In other words - the situation will not get worse in Iraq because an agreement was signed on the assumption that the situation would not get worse. Hmm.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal includes mention of a deadly bombing in Mosul, and writes that “if violence persists -- or flares -- it could threaten President Barack Obama's recently announced plan to accelerate the American withdrawal, with combat troops leaving Iraq by the end of August 2010.”
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh acknowledged Sunday that Iraqi security forces aren't yet ready to take full responsibility in Iraq, but they plan to be ready by the end of 2011 when U.S. troops leave.
Christian Science Monitor no Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com

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