Iraqis hunt for relatives among war dead


Devastated Iraqis hunted for dead relatives in city morgues on Thursday after brutal car bombings killed 190 people in Baghdad and raised questions about the US-led security plan for the capital.

Wednesday’s spate of attacks against Shiite areas of Baghdad clocked up the highest single day death toll since November 23 when 202 people were slaughtered in a similar blitz against the Shiite slum of Sadr City.

And the massive car bomb that ripped through shoppers and commuters in the Sadriyah marketplace was the deadliest single blast in Baghdad in Iraq’s four-year war — killing at least 140 people alone.

“O God, why all that!” sobbed one male relative, scanning frozen corpses stacked up in the giant morgue at the Imam Ali hospital in Sadr City after a night-time curfew was lifted and daybreak made it safe enough to leave home.

Around 200 anguished relatives choked back tears and anger as they swarmed past him, frantically trying to distinguish loved ones from a grotesque pile of charred bodies, many burnt beyond recognition.

For many, a ring, tattered remains of clothes ripped to shreds in the blast or their teeth was all there was to pick out their fathers and sons.

Some were unsure, dithering over whether the putrid remains really were their flesh and blood. Some came back later to retrieve the doubtful corpse for burial, desperate to end an agonising trawl through city morgues.

“We will bury him even if he isn’t our son,” said one man. His brother Ali Mohammed was one of those killed in Sadriyah, when a giant car bomb incinerated shop fronts, human flesh, cars and mini-buses.

Ali’s two little boys will now grow up without a father.

In Sadriyah, dazed Iraqis wandered back to examine the wreckage as an old man sat slumped on the ground, crying bitterly for one of his sons who died, surrounded by a dozen mostly elderly men gathered in silent grief.

“God is Great! Where were the police, the army, the Maghaweer (task force). Didn’t they see the vehicle passing through their checkpoints?” shouted Abu Adnan, 65, peering into the crater gouged out of the ground by the bomb.

Dazed friends and relatives walked past black placards nailed to walls with the names of victims in Al-Kifa street for a mourning at a nearby Shiite mosque as others returned to find their damaged cars and shops.

Wednesday’s attacks delivered a savage blow to the credibility of a two-month-old US security plan that has seen 80,000 Iraqi and US troops straining to contain the daily violence terrorising five million Baghdadis.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed the attack on infidels and “Takfiri vampires” — a reference to Sunni extremists — and demanded that politicians from both sides of the sectarian divide condemn it.

He also said that the Iraqi army regimental commander responsible for the area had been detained and would be investigated over “the weakness of the measures taken to protect civilians”.

On February 3, a truck bomb in the same market killed at least 130 people in the last days before the launch of the crackdown on February 14.

Although US Defence Secretary Robert Gates vowed that Washington would persevere with the security plan, politicians lashed out the US-backed Iraqi security forces and blamed the US crackdown for failing to impose law.

“The security plan has big shortcomings. Since such incidents re-occured security should have been tightened. There is negligence,” said Naseer al-Ani, a Sunni Arab MP from the Iraqi Islamic Party.

“Sadriya has been bombed two or three times. This region is an historic part of Baghdad where Arabs, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds live together… This is part of a plan to target the heritage of Baghdad,” he said.

Bassem al-Athari from the office of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, held the US-backed government security forces responsible for what happened.

“We condemn this heinous crime which claimed the lives of innocent people in Sadriyah, Karrada and Sadr City. We hold the security authorities responsible for what happened as they are first and foremost in charge of peoples’ lives.”

The Sadr camp bitterly opposes the American presence in Iraq, while the US military considers the radical cleric’s Mahdi Army the single most dangerous element in Iraq.

“What happened in Sadriyah and Karrada yesterday is proof that the security plan is not directed at the real incubators of terror,” said Saleh Hassan Issa al-Igaili, an MP from Sadr’s political bloc in parliament.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse