Iraq: rockets hit Shi’ite enclave

Hamas may be rallying around Hezbollah at the moment, but the Sunni-Shi’ite lovefest sure doesn’t seem to have extended to Iraq. From AP, July 28:

Rockets strike an upscale Shi’a district, killing dozens
Rockets and mortars rained down an upscale, mostly Shi’a area of Baghdad yesterday, collapsing an apartment house, shattering shops and killing at least 31 people — part of the rising sectarian violence President Bush has vowed to stop.

A car bomb also exploded during the attack in the commercial-residential district of Karradah, an area that is home to several prominent Shi’a politicians.

More than 150 people were wounded in the blasts, police said.

Horrified survivors milled about the street hours later, surveying the damage and blaming Sunnis from neighborhoods across the Tigris River.

“We are not infidels. It seems that we are not even safe in our homes,” said one man, who, like others on the street, refused to give his name because he was afraid.

A statement posted last night on an Islamist Web site claimed responsibility in the name of the al-Sahaba Soldiers, a part of the Sunni extremist Mujahedeen Shura Council which also includes al Qaeda in Iraq.

The statement, whose authenticity could not be determined, said the attack was “in response to Shi’a crimes” and warned “we are prepared for many such operations” to punish Shi’as for supporting the “crusaders,” or Americans, and the “treacherous” Iraqi government.

At least two rockets slammed into Karradah, including one that collapsed an apartment house, said Lt. Col. Abbas Mohammed Salman, police commander in Karradah. Salman gave the tally of dead and wounded.

Two mortar shells exploded — one near an investment bank and another across the street near a row of shops. A car bomb went off minutes later near a gas station, shattering storefronts and spraying flaming gasoline onto homes and shops, the Interior Ministry reported.

The blasts transformed a normally bustling, generally safe area of Baghdad into a scene from a war zone. Rescuers hauled a blood-soaked boy who appeared no more than 10 from the wrecked apartment building.

A woman dressed in black sank to the street, weeping uncontrollably, when neighbors told her two of her sons were dead. Dazed survivors, some bleeding from their wounds, tried to help one another get medical aid.

Charred hulks of trucks lay on their sides in the blackened street. One detonation occurred about 600 feet from the home of Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a senior figure in the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the attack, saying it was carried out by “killers of women and children” including religious extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists.

He said security forces would hunt down “those terrorists and killers who try to incite sectarian strife.”

Iraq’s biggest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the attackers were bent on “sabotaging the national reconciliation plan, but they will fail” if Iraqis realize “the solution is in their hands.”

The government ordered private vehicles off the streets today between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to prevent car bombs against Sunni and Shi’a worshippers on Islam’s main day of worship.

In Washington, military commanders in Iraq are developing a plan to move as many as 5,000 U.S. troops with armored vehicles and tanks into the country’s capital in an effort to quell escalating violence, defense officials said yesterday.

As part of the plan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday extended the tours of some 3,500 members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. It was scheduled to be leaving now, but instead, most of its 3,900 troops will serve for up to four more months.

It was unclear whether the Stryker troops, who are in northern Iraq, would be among those going to Baghdad.

Under the plan to bolster security in Baghdad, U.S. troops would be teamed with Iraqi police and army units and make virtually every operation in the city a joint effort, one military official said. Another said movement of some troops into Baghdad had already begun.

All flights out for soldiers currently at the end of their deployment were canceled as of Tuesday, as commanders wrestled with the plan and how to supply troops needed for it, a third official said.

See our last posts on Iraq and the sectarian cleansing.