Deadly Bombs Strike Market Near Baghdad

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At least 13 civilians are dead after bombs detonated at a market southeast of Baghdad. The violence comes a day after the worst death toll for Iraqis since September. At least 78 people were killed and well over 100 wounded in two blasts at a Shiite mosque northeast of Baghdad.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Iraqi officials say at least 13 civilians were killed at a market southeast of Baghdad today. The car bombing comes a day after the worst death toll for Iraqis since September. At least 78 people were killed and well over 100 wounded, including scores of Shiite worshipers at two mosques in northeastern Iraq. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Baghdad.

PETER KENYON reporting:

Saturday morning began quietly in the Iraqi capital, but a car bomb exploded at the Diyala Bridge market, turning a morning shopping scene into a chaotic mix of smoke, fire and bodies. Hospitals in the northeast town of Khanaqin are still treating huge numbers of wounded after suicide bombers destroyed a pair of mosques during the midday Friday prayers. Iraqi officials said four people had been arrested, three of them from outside Khanaqin, a largely Kurdish town near the border with Iran.

Western journalists and their Iraqi staff members received another scare and, in some cases, glass and shrapnel wounds when insurgents launched a double-suicide bomb attack at the Hamra Hotel in central Baghdad yesterday. One vehicle exploded at a concrete blast wall near the hotel, and a flatbed truck with an estimated 1,000 pounds of explosives moved into the breach. But it bogged down in the debris and exploded before reaching the hotel. The force of the blast collapsed a nearby Iraqi apartment building, leaving sobbing family members to help soldiers and firefighters dig through the rubble for survivors or bodies.

Iraqi police initially speculated that the intended target might have been a nearby bunker where government jailers were suspected of abusing mostly Sunni prisoners. Despite angry denials from the Shiite Interior minister, Sunni groups say this is part of a pattern of revenge attacks by Shiite security forces finally in power. At a news conference sponsored by the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, Omar Akram Akmed shared his story. He said he, his father and brother were seized by Interior Ministry commandos in July. Akmed says they were beaten; then he was released to collect $120,000 ransom to free his relatives. After he scraped together $70,000, he met the same commandos who had his father and brother in the backseat of their car.

Mr. OMAR AKRAM AKMED: (Through Translator) They told me I could take those as soon as they drove away. They pulled them out of the car and fired four bullets at my father and five more at my brother. They killed them right before my eyes and drove away.

KENYON: Akmed's account could not be confirmed, but similar allegations are multiplying as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari's government tries to contain the damage and guide Iraq toward parliamentary elections in less than a month.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.

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