Archive for Tuesday, August 15, 2006

U.S., Iraq at odds over blasts

August 15, 2006


— A deadly series of explosions in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad triggered a new battle Monday - between the U.S. military and the Iraqis over what caused the blasts. The number of casualties also was in dispute.

A U.S. military spokesman blamed the Sunday evening explosions in Zafraniyah on a gas line explosion that he said triggered secondary blasts and devastated the working class district on the southeastern edge of the city.

But Iraqi police and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the neighborhood was hit by car bombs and a rocket barrage, which the Interior Ministry said was unleashed from a Sunni neighborhood that U.S. troops have targeted in their security crackdown.

"The terrorists planned this ugly crime so that it would inflict maximum harm on innocent civilians, and this is proof of their deep-rooted hatred for Iraq and their attempt to incite sectarianism," al-Maliki said.

It was impossible to determine who was right. The Iraqis may have spoken too quickly to score public relations points by blaming government opponents. And the Americans have long been reluctant to acknowledge that sectarian hatred threaten to plunge the country into all-out civil war.

Each side insisted its interpretation of Sunday's events was correct.

U.S. ordnance teams went to Zafraniyah and found "no evidence" of anything other than a "significant gas explosion," U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said.

"If in fact there had been a hole in the ground, there would be some residue from a Katyusha rocket if one had been fired there," he told reporters, adding that American experts are "fairly good" at determining the cause of an explosion.

Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Saddoun Abu al-Ula said Iraqi experts had examined the area and concluded the explosions were caused by car bombs and rockets fired from the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Dora - evidence that sectarian violence shows no sign of abating despite an additional 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops soldiers rushed to the capital.

Adding to the uncertainty, a Sunni extremist group claimed responsibility for the blasts, saying in an Internet statement that it blew up two car bombs and fired 120 mm mortar shells to punish Shiites for "killing unarmed Sunnis" and cooperating with the Americans.

While the powerbrokers bickered over the details, the people of Zafraniyah cleaned up the rubble, buried their dead and tried to come to terms with their loss. Cars drove through the rubble-littered streets with wooden caskets of the dead strapped to their roofs.

Huge slabs of concrete that once were ceilings in an apartment building lay atop each other in a heap at one spot. A pedestrian bridge, ripped off its mooring, crushed a car underneath.

A middle-aged man in a bloodstained robe wandered aimlessly, hitting his face with his hands in grief. Residents said his six children were crushed to death when his house collapsed.

"This is terrorism against the whole nation," said Ali al-Sayedi, a municipal council member.

At least 13 other people were killed Monday in shootings and bombings across Iraq.


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