Baghdad bomb kills 26
BAGHDAD: A powerful car bomb ripped through Baghdad’s oldest book market on Monday, killing at least 26 people and wounding 42, said a security official.
The bomb exploded in the renowned Al-Mutanabi Street market in central Baghdad on the east bank of River Tigris, sending huge black plumes into the sky and enveloping the minarets of a mosque in acrid smoke and dust. A police source said that 54 people were injured in the blast. Three witnesses told Reuters it was a suicide car bomber.
Meanwhile, Iraqi and US forces on Monday pushed into Shia militia bastions in Baghdad where they once fought raging street battles, as their security plan faced the first big test of its authority.
The house-to-house searches in Sadr City are testing the resolve of Maliki’s government to back coalition forces in going after Shia militants in the bastion of one of its key allies, radical anti-American cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr.
The shove into Sadr City began on Sunday when 600 US and 550 Iraqi troops set up checkpoints and visited homes in the Jamila district, where a police station is due to be converted into a fortified base for a joint US-Iraqi force.
Coalition forces, meanwhile, were under fire from Maliki for a joint raid with Iraqi troops on his Interior Ministry’s intelligence office in Basra.
A British military spokesman said that Sunday’s raid, in which 37 people being held prisoner at the office, had uncovered evidence of torture, but Maliki was furious, and issued a statement slamming the raid.
“Maliki has ordered an investigation into the raid and has demanded that those behind this illegal act be punished,” said the statement.
Separately, followers of Muqtada Al-Sadr warned they would not relinquish their cabinet posts unless other members of the ruling coalition did the same, setting the stage for a major political battle as Maliki prepares to reshuffle his administration.
Maliki told AP on Saturday that he would reshuffle his cabinet within two weeks. He did not say how many posts would be changed, but an adviser to the prime minister said 10 ministers would be replaced. They include five of the six ministers loyal to Muqtada Al-Sadr. He said the Sunni bloc would lose two ministries and one deputy prime minister. He said the secular group led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi would give up two positions.
But the Al-Sadr faction would take the biggest hit under the adviser’s formula. Shia ministers from other factions would remain in their jobs. “We will not give up our share and any of our ministerial posts under any circumstances unless all other blocs are subjected to the same procedure,” said Saleh Al-Ukaili, the head of Sadrist faction in parliament.
Also on Monday, gunmen opened fire on Shia pilgrims in two separate incidents around Baghdad, killing five people.
In another development, an official said on Monday that Iraqi and US forces had captured 29 members of Al Qaeda, including a death squad leader. Twenty-two Al Qaeda members, including two brothers of Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi – the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq – were captured on Monday at Baiji, said Interior Ministry Operations Director Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf. “We have also arrested the most dangerous man in northern Iraq, Fuad Ahmed Al-Mufraji,” said Khalaf.
Khalaf said earlier that Iraqi and US forces captured a regional leader of the Islamic State of Iraq on Sunday, along with five other Al Qaeda members at Dhuluiyah. agencies