People clean the scene of a car bomb attack in Zafaraniyah,
Baghdad, in which 33 people were killed. (AP Photo/Khalid
A suicide car bomber has struck a Shiite funeral
procession, killing 33 people as suspected al-Qaeda militants
stepped up apparent efforts to provoke a counterattack by
Shiite militias on Sunnis that could pave the way toward open
sectarian warfare now that US troops have left Iraq.
The powerful blast - the second-deadliest attack in Iraq this
month - set nearby stores and cars ablaze alongside scattered
flesh and mutilated bodies. It shattered windows and damaged
walls in the local hospital, wounding a nurse and four
patients; Within minutes, the hospital was scrambling to
treat scores of others.
"It was a huge explosion," said Salam Hussein, who was
watching the funeral procession from his grocery store.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack
in the predominantly Shiite neighbuorhood of Zafaraniyah in
southwestern Baghdad. But the bombing resembled previous
attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Minutes after the explosion, gunmen opened fire at a
checkpoint in Zafaraniyah, killing two police officers,
according to police officials. All officials spoke on
condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to
speak to reporters.
More than 200 people have been killed in bombings and
shootings since the US military withdrew from Iraq on
December 18. Many of the dead have been Shiite pilgrims and
Iraqi police and soldiers.
Al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups are thought to be
exploiting sectarian tensions in the wake of Shiite Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki's efforts to marginalize the Sunni
minority and cement his own grip on power.
Al-Maliki's security forces have launched a widespread
crackdown against Sunni politicians, detaining hundreds for
alleged ties to the deposed Baath Party. Vice President Tareq
al-Hashemi, a Sunni, fled to the safety of the Kurdish
semiautonomous zone after he was charged with running death
squads during the height of the war.
"The attacks are a reaction to political developments in
Iraq," said Mustafa Alani, a Geneva-based analyst and an Iraq
expert with the Gulf Research Center. "The Sunnis feel the
Shiites are squeezing them out of the government, and
militants see the sectarian tensions in politics as a golden
opportunity to reactivate their terror campaign."
"The US soldiers are gone, Sunni politicians are being
marginalized and while most Sunnis will not support the
militants at the expense of being part of the political
process, the attackers know that most Sunnis won't condemn
violent acts either," Alani said.
Hadi Jalo, a Baghdad-based political analyst said the attacks
could be a provocation by Sunni militants, trying to draw
government-backed Shiite militias back into a sectarian
"Those behind these attacks know that there are a number of
organized Shiite armed groups who can strike back in Sunni
areas to renew the tit-for-tat killings," Jalo said.
Friday's car bomb killed 33 people, including eight
policemen, according to police and officials at Zafaraniyah
General Hospital. Sixty-five people were wounded, including
16 members of the security forces, they said.
Baghdad military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi gave
different figures in an interview with the US-funded Al-Hurra
television. He said 11 people were killed, including eight
policemen who were protecting the funeral, and 45 were
wounded. The Iraqi government often underplays the number of
casualties in attacks.
The attack took place at 11am (local time), when about 500
mourners were walking through a market area carrying coffins
of a real estate agent and his brother-in-law. They had been
shot and killed the night before in their office in Yarmouk,
a mostly Sunni district in the western part of the capital.
Al-Moussawi said the bomber detonated his explosives in the
car when he reached the end of the funeral procession.
Zafaraniyah resident Talib Bashir said he was part of the
procession but left early to take his child home. Then he
heard the blast.
"The fire lasted for a long time," Bashir said, noting that
cars, an ambulance and several stores were still engulfed in
flames hours later.
The bombing came two days after an al-Qaida spokesman
threatened more attacks on the Shiite-led government, saying
that "our explosives are at the door" of the prime minister.
Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, speaking for al-Qaeda's Islamic State
of Iraq, told his followers not to be deceived by the number
of the Iraqi government troops and their Shiite supporters,
because "they are merely beetles and flies." The audio
message was posted on the group's website.
The deadliest attack this month took place Jan. 14, when a
bomb tore through a procession of Shiite pilgrims heading
toward a largely Sunni town in southern Iraq. At least 53
people were killed.