Large Car Bombs Kill at Least 170 in Iraqi Capital

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In Baghdad on Wedesday, at least five car bombs killed as many as 170 people and left 200 more injured. The bloodshed posed new questions about the two-month-old, U.S.-led security crackdown in that city, which was supposed to prevent such attacks.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. It was a day of carnage in Baghdad. At least five car bombs exploded in the Iraqi capital, killing as many as 170 people and injuring an estimated 200 more. Those numbers are high, even for Baghdad, even after nearly four years of attacks of this kind. The bloodshed posed new questions about the two-month-old U.S.-led security crackdown in the Iraqi capital, an offensive that was supposed to prevent days like this.

NPR's Mike Shuster reports.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

MIKE SHUSTER: The deadliest of today's car bombs exploded at the Sadriyah market, in a largely Shiite neighborhood toward the northern side of Central Baghdad. The explosion went off just after 4:00 PM, when the market was filled with people and cars. Various reports put the death toll of this one bomb alone at more than 120 with another 150 injured. Some 40 cars were burned in the blast.

This same market was hit by another devastating blast in early February, leaving 135 dead then and more than 300 injured. Construction was underway to rebuild the areas of the market hit in the earlier bombing, and it appears some of the construction workers died in today's attack.

The series of explosions began this morning with the first at a parking lot at one of the checkpoints outside Baghdad International Airport. Then, around midday, another explosion in the Central Baghdad neighborhood of Karada. Then, several hours later, two bombs in quick succession: A suicide car bomb exploded near a checkpoint in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, and then the devastating blast at the Sadriyah market. Late this afternoon, there were two more car bombs, both aimed, it appears, at Iraqi police targets.

The overall death toll was one of the highest ever in Baghdad. It was certainly the most deadly day in the Iraqi capital since the U.S.-led security crackdown began in mid-February.

There are more American troops and their Iraqi military and police counterparts now stationed in various neighborhoods throughout the city. As a result, the U.S. military command makes the claim that this has brought down significantly the number of sectarian death-squad murders in Baghdad, which had reached up to 60 per-day on some days; and for a while, it seemed that insurgents had filtered out of the capital to strike at other more vulnerable cities and towns.

Now it seems insurgents have once again turned their attention to Baghdad. Clearly, the security operation has not been able to stop car and truck bombs from hitting major targets with psychologically as well as physically devastating effect.

Last week, a single truck bomb took down one of the city's dozen bridges over the Tigris River. The same day, a suicide bomber penetrated heavy layers of security to explode a bomb inside the building housing the Iraqi parliament. Since then, a few days in Baghdad have been without bombs, perhaps lulling the capital's residents into thinking that the atmosphere was improving.

With the deadly string of bombs today, it will be hard to counter the perception that security is getting worse, not better.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Baghdad.

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