A Tragedy in Baghdad

Two bombings hit Baghdad just 20 minutes apart on Friday morning, killing at least 99 people and injuring at least 145. The targets were a bird market and a pet market. Many of the dead were reportedly young schoolboys. Scott Simon reflects on the tragic events.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The two bombings that occurred in Baghdad yesterday morning are the kind of news that can startle and sicken, even as we shrug and turn past it with resignation. The bombings occurred 20 minutes apart at a pet market and a bird market. At least 99 people were killed, at least 145 injured. The pet markets often serve as impromptu zoos in the city. Many of those killed were reportedly young schoolboys who'd gone to the markets on their day off from school, the Muslim Sabbath. Families who'd gone to the markets for relief and diversion, to hear the twittering birds that remind us somehow how the sun comes up on a new day, were slaughtered. Now news organizations report those facts, but every now and then it doesn't seem impertinent to ask why.

What did the people who plotted those bombings think that killing innocents would do about anything and say about them? Iraqi police say that two women apparently had dynamite and ball bearings strapped to their chests under their clothing. The bombs were detonated at a distance by cell phones. And as the police emergency crews and the press moved in, several Iraqis in the markets told authorities they'd recognized the women. They were mentally handicapped. If this is true, it is difficult to believe that the women had any idea that they were being used so cruelly.

Those of us who've worked with mentally disabled adults know how they respond to attention, how they're so often eager to be helpful. The thought that someone took advantage of these generous instincts is - I can't avoid the again - sickening. I noticed this morning that some news organizations characterized the bombing as the act of militants. To me that seems like calling Jack Ripper an anti-pornography activist. The innocent people who were killed were not, to use that deluding term, collateral damage. They were the object of the attack. Some people make violence their own ideology, death and destruction their own goals. They may invoke venerated names, even gods, or cite some goal - even peace or freedom - as their guiding lights. The killers often say they hear voices.

Conventional politics take so much time, so much compromise. You can lose or win and see little result. So some people try to capture history with a single shot, stealing planes or strapping bombs onto innocent, unsuspecting women walking through a market filled with innocent people, animals, and the chatter of life. People don't have to know what you stand for, just what you're willing to do. That's how the thugs in this world can make good people cower.

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