Suicide Bombers Kill Dozens in Baghdad Markets

A pair of female suicide bombers struck at crowded pet markets in Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 64 people and wounding about 80 others. It was the deadliest day in the Iraqi capital in months.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today's two big bomb blasts in Baghdad killed at least 55 people and wounded more than 70. Both bombs struck pet markets.

As NPR's Graham Smith reports, they were crowded with people on the Muslim day of rest.

GRAHAM SMITH: The Jumhuriyah pet market is the largest in Iraq. It's on a largely Shiite eastern side of the city. Tradesmen cart in their goods selling birds, reptiles, cats and dogs and food for pets. It also serves as an impromptu zoo for families out on a holy day.

The crowds have been bigger since the regular Friday curfew was lifted three months ago. Ali Abdul(ph) sells birds at a small shop.

Mr. ALI ABDUL (Shop Owner): (Through translator) There was a huge crowd of people. It was a blessing from God to have such a crowd. Then suddenly, the explosion took place. Many people were blown apart.

SMITH: The bomber had walked in past security check points and detonated an explosive vest. Police say it was a woman wearing a traditional black cloak. They say experts found her head among the body parts strewn around the market.

Mohamed Jaber(ph) who runs an electrical supply shop just across the street believes it was a man with long hair. In any event, the bomber was in the thick of the crowd.

Mr. MOHAMED JABER (Owner, Electrical Supply Shop): (Through translator) The explosion was so huge. The flame was huge. It went all down the street. And the other explosion today, in New Baghdad, was at the same time. That means they timed it all out.

SMITH: Police, too, believe today's bombs were coordinated, meant to cause maximum civilian casualties. At almost the same time as the first blast, a woman carried a big box into the crowd at a smaller pet market that specializes in birds. Police confirm it was a highly explosive bomb packed inside a crate of eggs and birds. Whether the bomber died there is unknown, but the effect was devastating.

Women are rarely searched at most check points in the city. One NPR staffer who was at the pet market just yesterday said he wasn't searched either. The check points do keep cars out of the markets, but many are now manned by members of local government-aligned militias that have proliferated in the last year.

One shopkeeper at the central pet market says he felt safer with security in the hands of militia men loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Graham Smith, NPR News, Baghdad.

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