Iraqi security forces face criticism after market blast
Iraq's security forces faced criticism on Thursday after a massive bomb in a crowded market in Baghdad left at least 62 dead, just days before US troops must pull out of cities.
The death toll from the attack in the predominantly Shiite slum neighbourhood of Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad means the number of people killed as a result of violence this month has already overtaken May's total, underscoring the fragile security situation in Iraq.
Some 150 people were also injured, the central operational command, the military's headquarters for its Baghdad operations, said, when a motorcycle rickshaw loaded with explosives that were covered with fruit and vegetables caused a massive blast at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Wednesday.
"After hearing the explosion (in Sadr City), I rushed to the market," 20-year-old local resident Saif Mohammed said.
"I saw pieces of flesh and pools of blood... Explosions like this confirm that the Iraqi security forces are not able to protect the people from violence or war."
The attacker jumped off the rickshaw in the middle of Mraidi market and managed to escape before the bomb was set off.
The market area was closed off by Iraqi security forces in the aftermath of the bombing.
"I heard a boom and saw a ball of fire," said 30-year-old father-of-two Najim Ali, who was shopping in the market when the bomb went off.
"I saw cars flying in the air because of the force of the explosion," he added, saying he fainted shortly after the attack and awoke to find himself in a nearby hospital.
Ali said he had seen wounded people waiting in the hospital's hallways, and added that there were not enough beds to deal with the number of wounded.
The Sadr City bombing comes with less than a week to go before the planned pullout of US troops from Iraqi cities, towns and villages, due by Tuesday, stemming from a US-Iraq security accord signed in November.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned earlier this month that insurgents and militiamen were likely to step up their attacks in a bid to undermine confidence in the Iraqi security forces.
But Maliki later told French daily Le Monde that Iraq would not call on US forces to take part in combat operations after they pull out.
Violence has dropped markedly in Iraq in recent months, with May seeing the lowest Iraqi death toll since the 2003 invasion. But attacks remain common, particularly in Baghdad and Mosul.
General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, says the majority of his troops have already left Iraqi cities ahead of the deadline.
Wednesday's bombing was the third major attack in Iraq this month, and ensures that June's death toll from violence will top the 155 Iraqis that were killed in May.
A June 20 truck bomb near the northern city of Kirkuk killed 72 people and wounded more than 200 in the deadliest attack here in 16 months, and on June 10, a car bomb in a market in the largely peaceful province of Dhi Qar killed 19 people.
Smaller attacks also hit Iraq on Wednesday evening, interior ministry officials said -- one person was killed and 10 injured by a bomb in the western neighbourhood of Jihad at 8:00 pm, while four people were wounded by a blast in Saidiyah, south Baghdad, an hour later.
Seven civilians were injured by a grenade targeting a US patrol in the restive northern city of Mosul, police said.