Deadly Violence Flares in Baghdad Suburb

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Bombers blew apart two markets in Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 48 people and wounding more than 200. The bloody assaults on the Shiite slum of Sadr City came just after Iraqi political leaders said the new parliament will convene Thursday.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Baghdad is reeling from a weekend of violence that saw nearly four dozen people killed in a series of car bombings. The coordinated attacks struck Sadr City, a Shiite strong hold and home to Iraqi's loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Madhi Army.

It was the worst violence in weeks in Iraq, and it followed the announcement that the new Iraqi Parliament is to convene on Thursday.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay joins me now from Baghdad. And Jamie, is there any more news since yesterday's bombings about those bombings?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, both the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Health have reported reprisal killings after the bombings in Sadr City.

They say people in Sadr City of shot dead and strung up their bodies. They blindfolded them and tied their hands and legs and they wrote the word Traitor on a piece of paper, which was stuck to their clothing.

We understand that when Iraqi police came to collect the bodies the Madhi Army refused to let them go. They said they wanted to wait for the press to come and photograph them before the bodies were taken away.

This is a problem and it's obviously very worrying. Things are only just beginning to calm down after the Golden Mosque in Samarra was blown up last month. And this direct attack on the completely Shiite area is seen by everyone here as an attempt to heat things up again.

The Madhi Army blames Saddam loyalists for the attack and two influential Sunni groups released statements condemning the bombings. It's a critical moment, and everyone here is hoping that calm will prevail.

MONTAGNE: Political leaders are meeting again today to try and form a new government today. What's the latest on those efforts?

TARABAY: Well, President Jalal Talabani hosted a meeting last night and the meeting again today to continue working on this new National Unity Government. Parliament is supposed to reconvene on Thursday. And they're hoping that they'll be able to resolve different issues they have on the government positions soon afterwards.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, which belongs to the largest Sunni faction in parliament, put out a statement yesterday saying that every time it looks like there might be political progress, there's some sort of deadly attack. And I think that's the sense that everyone has here, is the politicians were wrapped in infighting and that stalled the recall of the government. It prevented the formation of the new government, and the instability at this level is in a way sending a message to insurgents that there's no real authority here.

MONTANGE: And U.S. Ambassador's Zalmay Khalilzad has been playing a really active role in the politics there.

TARABAY: He's been very critical here. He's been pressing all the different sides to come together.

Yesterday he appeared with the Iraqi politicians after their meeting and he said the new government was crucial because there was a degree of vacuum in authority. But it's a delicate line, because there are leaders who don't like him and they don't like the U.S., like Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sadr yesterday blamed the U.S. occupation for the bombings in Sadr City, and he wants the U.S. to leave as soon as possible. And Khalilzad has been criticized by other Shiite leaders who accuse him of interfering. And they say that he's interference is giving insurgents the green light to go ahead with these attacks.

MONTAGNE: And yesterday the Saddam Hussein trial went back into session, there's a new phase with the defendants taking the stand. What's happened so far?

TARABAY: Yesterday three junior officials in Saddam's Baath Party argued their defense and they all denied any involvement in the massacre of the Dujail villagers in 1982, after the failed assassination attempt on Saddam. One of them said that his signed statement wasn't valid because he couldn't read the paper, because he didn't have his glasses on.

And another said that he actually helped the villagers instead of rounded them up for interrogation. You know, he said that he was known as a good and gentle person and couldn't even hurt a fly.

The court expects to hear all of the eight defendants by the end of the week before it adjourns again.

MONTAGNE: Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you.

MONGAGNE: NPR's Jamie Tarabay, speaking from Baghdad.

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