A Month of Attacks Focused on Iraqi Markets Deadly bombings occur nearly every day in Baghdad, or elsewhere in Iraq. In the month of February, attacks continued to focus on the markets that are at the center of Iraqi life. They are prime targets for an insurgency seeking to disrupt the rhythms of life.

A Month of Attacks Focused on Iraqi Markets

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The shortest month of the year was long enough for a string of bombings in Iraq. There have been so many that it's possible to lose track. So this morning, we've gathered a list. We focused only on attacks against just one kind of target in just one month, but the list will take a moment to read.

INSKEEP: All through February bombers targeted markets, places that in normal times would be centers of Iraqi life.

On February 1st, bombings south of Baghdad killed as many as 73 people at an outdoor market. It seemed like major news until two days later. That's when a bombing at the Jamila food market killed an estimated 135.

On the 8th of February, the target was south of Baghdad, a meat market where a car bomb killed about 15 people. Then a suicide bomber struck a bakery in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.

MONTAGNE: That same day, a new American general took over command. David Petraeus had a mandate to restore security to the capital. He'd been on the job just days when a series of explosions killed dozens at markets in Central Baghdad.

INSKEEP: On February 14th, President Bush laid out a definition of success in Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq will be a society in which there is relative peace. I say relative peace because if it's like zero car bombings, it never will happen that way.

INSKEEP: And on that same day, the day we know as Valentine's Day, a car bomb killed two people at a Baghdad marketplace.

MONTAGNE: Three days later, car bombs killed several people in the city of Kirkuk. Then a car bomb struck a Baghdad vegetable market. And the month ended yesterday as it began, with a market bombing that killed 10 more people. These bombings were the daily punctuation of Iraqi life over the past 28 days.

INSKEEP: To get a sense of what this means, we've called Saleem Amer. He's an NPR Iraqi staffer in Baghdad. He's known to many of our listeners for his commentaries about becoming a father in a war zone.

Saleem, welcome to the program.

SALEEM AMER: Hi, sir. How are you doing?

INSKEEP: You know, we just read the list of market bombings and there were quite a few in February. If you look at other kinds of attacks, something happened. Some kind of attack on civilians happened most of the days over the course of February. Do people in Baghdad even notice those daily attacks anymore?

AMER: Yes. Well, I will tell you about Shorja market in Central Baghdad. It have around 4,000 shops. Each shop have around 10 people, you know, workers, owners, accountants. A majority of the people from all over Iraq. Store owners come to shop from Shorja market. It's like the main market in Iraq and it get bombed, I don't know, 20 times maybe, since the fall of the regime.

INSKEEP: And so - so this is a market that anybody who owns a restaurant may depend on this market, any number of people from private homes may depend on this market, and it's just one stall after another.

AMER: Everybody. Everybody. You can see everything. You can see kids, women, men, and probably it's the only market that you cannot say that it's sectarian. You know, it have different kind of people. It have Christian, have Shiites, have Sunnis. And the insurgents, I think, they use these markets because, you know, it have bigger number of people.

INSKEEP: What does this mean for people who are trying to run these shops, trying to make a living there?

AMER: Well, we have a new service, especially in some of the neighborhoods. Some of these shop owners start making phone calls to people, telling them, you know, if you need anything I can go out at the brink of dawn. And the shop owners start having new ways to prevent any suicide attempts, any car bombs, any IUDs left. They start hiring people to search people before they get in the market, and they're not allowing anybody to park on the side of the road. Whenever you're going to park, you know, there is 100 people who start shouting to you to move. This is their best way to make business. This is how it's happening nowadays in Baghdad.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm thinking about the idea of being a new father. You are constantly being sent out to pick up something. You're constantly needing something. Are you having to ration the number of times you go out just to buy something for your newborn son?

AMER: Well, I used to go every day to shop for my family. But now, you know, I minimize everything. I have one time every week to go outside and shop, and instead of going every day. And - unless there is something urgent. And you know, I will not stop talking to any friend or any neighbor on the way to the markets.

INSKEEP: Even as these bombings have taken place across the month of February, U.S. officials and Iraqi officials have said that they're trying to impose a new security plan on Baghdad. Have you seen any evidence of that?

AMER: Well, I didn't see anything until last night, 10:30, knock on the door and you know, knock on the door at night, you know, it's something so dangerous. So we ran out looking who's there and it was American soldiers jumped in the garden of the house. And I can see that there is like 15 Humvees and like hundreds of U.S. soldiers, you know, checking house to house, searching the houses. They get inside my house. They search the house. They ask for the weapons. You know, we show them that we have just one AK-47. They decided to leave the weapon, and there is some of the houses in the neighborhood that been took in by the Mahdi's militia. They get inside these houses and they took all the armed men and all the houses that have been took in by the Mahdi's militia are empty now, and everybody is so happy in the neighborhood. You know, I think that the neighborhood does not have any bad guys anymore.

INSKEEP: From where you sit, does it feel like the situation is getting a little better or a little worse on balance?

AMER: Well, the problem - the Americans going to leave at the end. So the bad guys going to get back again, and they're going to took the same houses. They're going to do the same operations. You know, I think nothing's going to get changed unless we have a real security plan, people who will stay. You know, I don't want the Americans to stay in my neighborhood. You know, it's dangerous to them. It's not their role. It's our government's role. Government should be much more professional on how to secure these neighborhoods. As they American did, you know.

INSKEEP: Saleem Amer is an Iraqi employee of NPR in Baghdad.

Thanks very much

AMER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And we want to mention that you can find an interactive timeline that charts the Iraq War and its human toll. It's at npr.org.

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