NOEL KING, HOST:
More than 30 people are dead after a double suicide bombing in a busy market in Baghdad. Footage from the scene shows people running away through secondhand clothes stalls. This kind of attack, thankfully, is rare these days in Iraq. NPR's Alice Fordham is in Baghdad.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Hello.
KING: What do we know about what happened?
FORDHAM: Well, security officials say that two people wearing suicide vests were being chased through a market in downtown Baghdad, a place called Tayaran Square, and that one of them then detonated his vest, apparently killing several people. And then a second one struck, targeting the people who had come to help. It's a beautiful day in Baghdad. This happened mid-morning. The market was packed. The death toll has been rising all day. I spoke to a medic from Medecins Sans Frontieres, the charity, who said she was actually in the hospital helping with the COVID-19 response. She walked past the emergency department and said she realized there was a mass casualty and that she spent all morning triaging patients in the lobby of their hospital, basically.
KING: How unusual is this type of suicide bombing in Iraq these days?
FORDHAM: Well, this is the thing. The doctor was telling me her Iraqi colleagues were very efficient at triaging because this sort of thing used to happen with, you know, really horrifying regularity. But these days, this is really a shock. These kinds of attacks slowed to a trickle when ISIS was largely defeated several years ago. And just being out and about in Baghdad now, it feels very alive. I spoke today with Iraq analyst and Baghdad resident Hamzeh Hadad, and he came back to live here in 2019 from Canada, partly because of the improved security.
HAMZEH HADAD: With security improving, you're seeing less checkpoints. You're seeing T-walls coming down. Slowly but surely, you're seeing the beauty of the city come back to life. Things are busier again. Markets are bustling. So to have something like this reoccur that hasn't happened in a few years is really shocking and worrying for everyday Iraqis and everyday Baghdadis.
KING: And could it be a sign that ISIS is not largely defeated as we've believed?
FORDHAM: Well, we can't really say based on one incident. Certainly, people like Hamzeh Hadad very much hoping that this is isolated. And we should say that as of now, no one has claimed responsibility for this. But although attacks in the capital aren't as common as they were, there are reminders all over Iraq that ISIS and other militant groups are active. You know, earlier this week, there were coordinated attacks on the very ramshackle electricity infrastructure across the country. Power cables were struck and power stations with bombs. And reports suggested that those were likely connected with ISIS or sort of sympathetic groups.
KING: From the perspective of the U.S., President Joe Biden has just taken office. What do we know about his Iraq policy?
FORDHAM: Well, the United States is still a factor in security here in Iraq. Although the Trump administration did withdraw troops from Iraq, there are still about 2,500 American soldiers here working with Iraqi security forces. And the incoming defense secretary, General Lloyd Austin, in written testimony as part of his confirmation process, says that he is still concerned about the threat ISIS poses in Iraq and beyond and said that he supported maintaining a small number of U.S. troops and that their mission is really to strengthen Iraqi counterterrorism forces and deal with the continuing threat from ISIS. And I think that many regular Iraqis and politicians I've spoken to do support that continuing help.
KING: Thanks, Alice.
FORDHAM: Thank you.
KING: NPR's Alice Fordham in Baghdad.
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