Rare twin suicide bombings rock Baghdad market, killing at least 28

By Louisa Loveluck,

Thaier Al-Sudani Reuters

The site of a Jan. 21 suicide attack in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD — Rare twin suicide bombings struck a market Thursday in central Baghdad, killing at least 28 people and wounding 73 more, according to Iraqi security officials and state media.

The blasts came midmorning, as people were doing their shopping in Tayaran Square. Video footage showed the second explosion ripping through the air as sirens blared and casualties were raced away in motorized rickshaws. Other images from the scene revealed bodies strewn on the ground amid upturned tables and piles of unsold clothes.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Although security forces continue to fight ragtag bands of Islamic State militants in Iraq’s peripheral regions, major security incidents in the capital are rare. Thursday’s attack was the deadliest to strike the capital in years. The last mass casualty attack, striking the same square, took place in January 2018 and killed 27 people.

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Khalid Al-Mahna, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that the suicide bomber had blown himself up after attracting a crowd by feigning sickness in the middle of the market.

When shoppers came to help those wounded by the first blast, he said, someone else detonated a second bomb.

Thursday’s attack shattered a sense of relative security in the capital, raising questions over the Iraqi security forces’ preparedness in the face of a militant threat diminished but by no means erased. Army units and special forces continue to arrest alleged Islamic State members from their homes in urban centers, and say that sleeper cells remain prepared to mount strikes.

In a statement, Iraq’s military spokesman Yahya Rasool said that the bombers had detonated their explosives as they were pursued by security forces. No uniformed security forces appeared to be visible in the closed-circuit television footage that showed the first blast.

It comes at a time when life for ordinary Iraqis has been getting harder. The coronavirus pandemic has tanked global energy prices, plunging Iraq’s oil-dependent economy into crisis and forcing a devaluation of the currency. Unemployment has increased. The price of basic goods is rising, too.

As street cleaners swept blood from street, an elderly man with gray hair and spectacles wandered confused and distraught through a street running up to the market place. “Where is my son,” he shouted, in a video circulated on social media. “He’s just a kid who sells sunglasses and wants to live. Where is he?”

Compounding Iraq’s multiple crises, the country has also emerged again as a stage for geopolitical tensions, with Iran-backed Shiite militias and the outgoing Trump administration trading rocket attacks and airstrikes on diplomatic and military-linked facilities.

Three Americans and one Briton have been killed in those attacks. But for the most part, the dead and wounded have been Iraqis, caught in the crossfire.

After the Islamic State’s official defeat here in 2017, the United States is in the process of drawing down its troop presence to 2,500, most of them in an advisory capacity, as the Iraqi military takes the lead on what remains of the fight.

“ISIS will be trying to make this part of a campaign to disrupt daily life and show it is still relevant and able to carry out extreme violence despite its territorial defeat, said Sajad Jiyad, an Iraq-based fellow at the Century Foundation.

“Attacks harken back to painful memories when attacks on civilians were common. The government needs to restore confidence quickly and show it will not allow ISIS bombings to become a regular occurrence again.”

Mustafa Salim contributed to this report.

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Source: WP