BAGHDAD — A car bomb ripped through a busy commercial street in a Shiite area of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 51 people and wounding scores more in the deadliest blast in the capital in more than three months.
Many victims were trapped in their apartments by a raging fire that engulfed at least one building, according to police and Interior Ministry officials, who also said about 75 people were wounded.
Stunned survivors stumbled through the rubble-strewn street, which was filled with the smoke from burning vehicles, witnesses said.
The attack shattered the relative calm in the capital since a May 11 ceasefire ended seven weeks of fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces and Shiite militants in the Sadr City district. Ironically, it came the same day the Iraqi parliament announced plans to move outside the U.S.-protected Green Zone.
Angry survivors blamed the army and police for failing to protect them.
“The blast occurred because there wasn’t any security presence by the Iraqi army or police at the scene, not even any checkpoint,” said Khalid Hassan, 40, who suffered shrapnel wounds and burns. “People were confused, upset and running in all directions. We are all victims of terrorism and carelessness.”
The bomber struck around 5:45 p.m. near a market and bus stop in the Hurriyah district of west Baghdad, scene of some of the most horrific sectarian massacres during the wave of Sunni-Shiite slaughter in 2006.
Kamil Jassim, a witness, said the blast set fire to a generator used by residents and shopkeepers to supplement city power. The fire quickly spread to a two-storey building containing both shops and apartments where many of the victims were found.
Haider Fadhil, a 25-year-old metal worker, said he was shopping with two friends when the blast hurled him to the ground.
“When I regained consciousness, I found that my left hand and leg were broken,” Fadhil said from his bed in a nearby hospital, where anguished families wept as they jammed the waiting rooms. “Thanks be to God for saving me and thanks to those who carried me in their pickup truck to the hospital.”
The blast was the deadliest attack in Baghdad since March 6, when a pair of bombs detonated in the mostly Shiite district of Karradah, killing 68 people and wounding about 120.
No group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s blast, and both Sunni and Shiite militants have used car bombs in their attacks.
U.S. officials said American soldiers were attending a meeting of a neighbourhood action committee about 150 metres from the blast site but it was unclear if they were the target.
“This is a senseless and tragic event,” said Lt.-Col. Steve Stover, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Baghdad command. “What’s to gain by terrorizing the population? …This is simply an evil act.”
U.S. commanders have warned repeatedly that the relative peace in Baghdad is fragile because extremists, including “al-Qaida in Iraq” and Shiite militant groups, remain capable of high-profile attacks.
The Americans hope that security measures are enough to prevent extremists from mounting a sustained campaign of bombings against civilians that could provoke a return to sectarian reprisal attacks.
Also Tuesday, an Iraqi state television journalist, Muhieddin Abdul-Hamid, was shot to death near his apartment in the northern city of Mosul, officials said.
Colleagues said the 50-year-old journalist was a local anchor for the TV station in Mosul, the focus of an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi operation against the last major urban stronghold of “al-Qaida in Iraq.”
Excluding Abdul-Hamid, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 129 journalists and 50 media support workers have been killed since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
In other violence Tuesday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck a Baghdad checkpoint manned by U.S.-allied fighters, killing one and wounding four, officials said.
Another suicide car bomber attacked a police checkpoint in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding 19 other people, officials said.
Gunmen also killed a senior police officer and two of his guards near Aziziyah, a Shiite area 35 miles southeast of Baghdad.