BAGHDAD - Two suicide car bombs ripped through throngs of people who poured into Baghdad streets yesterday carrying the Iraqi flag in a rare moment of shared joy over the national soccer team's surprise run to reach its first Asian Cup final. Police said at least 50 people were killed and 135 injured.
The savagery of the attacks shocked even Baghdad's battle-hardened residents.
"These criminals don't want Iraqis to be happy," said Qais Mula, a grocery owner who said several of his regular customers were killed in one of the blasts. "The flags fell with the dead bodies in a pool of blood."
In another reminder of the divisions that bedevil Iraq, the largest Sunni Arab bloc suspended its participation in the Shiite Muslim-led government, complaining that its members had been sidelined.
A love of soccer is one of the few things that unite Iraqis from all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Shops closed early, streets emptied, and violence dropped to unusually low levels as Iraqis sat transfixed through the nail-biting Asian Cup semifinal against South Korea, broadcast live on Iraqi television and radio from Malaysia. Even police officers clustered around handheld radios to follow the game.
At a coffee shop in Baghdad's upscale Jadriya neighborhood, men and children gathered around a small TV, rising to their feet to shout or curse every time one of the teams came close to scoring.
"This winning spree will help us get rid of this sectarian sedition, which has afflicted the country for the last four years," said Saad Abdul-Hussein, a Shiite security guard who was part of the group. "You can see how unified we are here in the coffee shop. There are Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians, all sitting together."
Throughout the country, people have rallied behind the squad, whose mixed makeup has shown Iraqis they can still come together after years of sectarian bloodshed.
"Soccer is one of the greatest gifts that the Iraqis have, and this team is a national treasure," said Akram Khafaji, the cafe's owner.
After their team won, 4-3, on penalties, thousands streamed onto streets all over Iraq, leaping atop vehicles, dancing, spraying one another with party foam, and pointing guns skyward in celebration. At least one person was killed and 17 were hurt by celebratory gunfire, police said.
Less than two hours after the game was over, a bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the crowd celebrating outside a popular ice cream shop in Baghdad's Sunni-dominated western Mansour neighborhood, killing at least 30 and injuring 75, police said.
Another bomber detonated a payload among revelers celebrating with soldiers from an Iraqi army checkpoint in Ghadeer, a Christian enclave in eastern Baghdad, killing 20 and injuring 60, police said.
"A speeding car came from nowhere and rushed into the crowd . . . turning this celebration into sadness," said Mula, the grocery owner.
"I can't think of anything more sad than those injured people crying for help, and everyone trying to run for his life," said Fadi Saadi, a salesman at an appliance store who was visiting a nearby barber.
Earlier yesterday, leaders of the Sunni bloc known as the Iraqi Accordance Front said they were giving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a week to meet their list of demands, or else they would quit his cabinet for good.
The demands include a general amnesty for detainees who have not been charged with specific crimes; respect for human rights, including an end to random arrests; the dismantling of private militias; inclusion of all communities in the government and security forces; and a serious effort to return those displaced by sectarian violence to their homes.
The Accordance Front's five ministers and Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali Zubaie had already been boycotting cabinet meetings, but they now planned to stop coming to their offices, said Adnan Dulaimi, who heads the bloc.
"We at the Accordance Front want to be allowed to take an effective part in building the new Iraq and preserving its wealth and sovereignty," Dulaimi told the Los Angeles Times.
Zubaie said Maliki's government had repeatedly excluded Sunni politicians from decision-making.
"We have started to feel ashamed of our participation in this government," he said.
The move comes at a delicate time for Maliki's government, which is under enormous pressure to show progress on legislation aimed at reconciling Iraq's factions before U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the top U.S. commander here, Gen. David Petraeus, report to Congress in September.
Dulaimi said the bloc's boycott would not affect parliament, which must approve the legislation. The Accordance Front has 44 representatives in the 275-member parliament. Those members ended their own boycott last week.
Besides the two bombings yesterday, police in Baghdad recovered the bodies of 18 gunshot victims. Eight other bodies were recovered south of the capital, including a father and son found in a pickup truck behind a school in Iskandariya.
A bomb exploded in a minibus in the Shiite-dominated Shaab neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing three people and injuring two.
Six Iraqis were killed and eight wounded when U.S. and Iraqi forces, backed by helicopters, raided Sadr City, another Shiite district in the city, police said.
The U.S. military announced the death of a soldier of non-battle-related causes. The death was being investigated.
Official Disputes Bush On al-Qaeda in Iraq
Undercutting new assertions by President Bush, a top U.S. intelligence official testified yesterday that al-Qaeda's organization in Iraq was overwhelmingly composed of fighters from that country, and that the terrorist network's ability to operate in Pakistan poses the greater danger to the United States.
Bush said al-Qaeda in Iraq was substantially controlled by foreign operatives and
that most would be trying to kill Americans were it not for the war there.
Edward Gistaro, the nation's top analyst for transnational threats, told the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees that the U.S. intelligence community's "primary concern" is al-Qaeda in South Asia. He said that
90 percent of the members of al-Qaeda in Iraq were Iraqis who joined al-Qaeda's organization there since the U.S. invasion. He said the bulk of its resources were focused on the battle in Iraq.
- Los Angeles Times
Violence finds a new target:
Iraqis' soccer euphoria. See video via http://go.philly.com/iraqsoccer