Deadly explosions in Baghdad rattle some at Pentagon
At least 173 people died in Baghdad on Wednesday in a series of major explosions, making the day the capital's deadliest since the onset...
BAGHDAD — At least 173 people died in Baghdad on Wednesday in a series of major explosions, making the day the capital's deadliest since the onset nine weeks ago of a much-touted U.S.-Iraqi security plan.
The violence capped a dreadful seven days that began with a stunning suicide attack in the Iraqi parliament building in the heavily fortified Green Zone. At least 363 people have died in Baghdad in the past week.
Pentagon officials urged patience, saying two of the five U.S. brigades ordered to Iraq as part of the security plan have yet to arrive, although some at the Pentagon privately expressed concern.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in Israel, blamed al-Qaida for Wednesday's attacks and said military planners had anticipated such actions "to make the plan a failure or to make the people of Iraq believe the plan is a failure."
But one official at the Pentagon sighed at news of the bombings: "We don't have enough troops. It would take another 100,000" to properly protect Baghdad. Another planner said: "We are just trying the same things over and over again." Neither would agree to speak on the record, citing the sensitivity of the topic.
Outside the Pentagon, military experts urged the Bush administration to reassess its plan, which until the past week had reduced the number of unidentified corpses found on Baghdad's streets but has done nothing to stop mass-fatality bombings.
"Which one is better: assassination squads or spectacular bombings?" asked Kevin Ryan, a retired brigadier general who's now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "They have to readjust."
Wednesday's carnage was the worst in Baghdad in several months. In addition to the dead, at least 228 people were injured throughout the city.
The deadliest attack came in the central Sadriyah neighborhood, where Shiite Muslims predominate. Shortly after 4 p.m., a truck bomb exploded in a parking lot near the main marketplace, torching a cluster of about 30 Toyota minibuses filled with passengers, residents said.
Police officials said the blast killed 140 people and wounded 150, some of whom were swaddled in blankets and taken away from the scene in handcarts. Cranes lifted bodies from the wreckage while rescue workers cut through twisted metal to free trapped survivors.
U.S. military officials said the damage would have been even worse if the blast had penetrated a series of concrete barriers surrounding the shopping area, which is filled with restaurants.
The marketplace, one of the oldest in Baghdad, is being rebuilt after a Feb. 3 truck bombing killed about 130 people and incinerated many of the shops.
Residents described a chaotic scene at the blast site, where a crowd of people quickly gathered and began denouncing the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"There is no more security plan," said Amir al-Bawi, 26. "The first days were really good, but not anymore."
Less than an hour earlier, a suicide car bomber detonated on an overpass near a joint U.S.-Iraqi security station at the edge of Sadr City, the Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad that's named for the father of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Iraqi officials said 17 people were killed and 45 were injured.
Al-Sadr's supporters denounced the attack but said they didn't know how the cleric — who's been in hiding since the security plan went into effect — or his followers in the massive Mahdi Army militia would respond. Earlier this week, al-Sadr ordered six Cabinet ministers from his party to withdraw from Maliki's government, raising the possibility that his followers could rebel against the security plan.
Three other car bombs exploded in and around Baghdad Wednesday. The worst of them came about 1 p.m. in the central Karradah neighborhood, on a street lined with electronics shops, killing 10 people and wounding 13.
Two other blasts targeted Iraqi police. Two officers were killed and two injured while on patrol in Mahmoudiyah, just south of the capital, in an attack that also injured two other civilians. Another suicide car bomb detonated near a police checkpoint in the Saidiyah district at approximately 7 p.m., killing two people and injuring eight, including three police officers.
In another sign of escalating violence, 15 corpses were found throughout the city. A total of 101 dead bodies have been found over the past five days, the highest total in three weeks.
As for car bombs, statistics maintained by McClatchy Newspapers show that the security plan has had no beneficial impact.
In the two months before the plan went into effect on Feb. 15, there was an average of 1.1 car bombings a day. Since then, the average is 1.2, the statistics show.
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