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Iraqi medical officials say a roadside bomb attack has targeted a Baghdad suburb, killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens of others at a crowded marketBy QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA Associated PressJuly 19, 2021, 7:44 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBAGHDAD — A roadside bomb attack targeted a Baghdad suburb Monday, killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens of others at a crowded market, Iraqi medical officials said.The attack took place in the Wahailat market in Sadr City, Iraq’s military said in a statement. Two medical officials said at least 30 people were killed and dozens more wounded in the powerful explosion. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.The blast happened a day before the Eid al-Adha holiday when the market was busy with shoppers looking for gifts and groceries.Piles of merchandise lay on the ground after the explosion. Shopkeepers recounted to security forces how the blast occurred as they salvaged what items they could.There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing but the Islamic State group has claimed similar attacks in the area before.Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi placed the commander of the federal police regiment responsible for the area of the market place under arrest, the military statement said. It also said an investigation was launched.It was the third time this year that a bomb hit a market in the densely populated neighborhood in eastern Baghdad.In June, 15 people were wounded when a bomb placed under a kiosk in another Sadr City market detonated. In April, at least four people were killed in a car bomb attack in Sadr City. That blast was caused by an explosive device attached to a parked car at the market.Monday’s attack comes two months ahead of federal elections slated for Oct. 10.Large bomb attacks, once an almost daily occurrence in Baghdad, have slowed in recent years since IS was defeated on the battlefield in 2017.Attacks persist, however. In January, over 30 people were killed in a twin suicide bombing in a busy commercial area in central Baghdad. It was the deadliest bombing in three years to strike Iraq’s capital.
Iraqi officials say police have arrested the shooter in the drive-by killing last year of a prominent analyst and public commentatorBy QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA Associated PressJuly 16, 2021, 5:30 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBAGHDAD — A year later, Iraqi police arrested the shooter in the killing of a prominent public commentator whose slaying sent shockwaves through the country, officials said Friday. Iraq’s prime minister declared that with the arrest, his government has fulfilled its promise to bring the perpetrators to justice.Hisham al-Hashimi was gunned down last July outside his home in Baghdad in a drive-by shooting that involved two attackers on a motorcycle. He was a well-connected security analyst who appeared regularly on Iraqi television and whose expertise was sought out by government officials, journalists and researchers.The killing of the 47-year-old al-Hashimi — whose shooting was captured on a surveillance camera — contributed to a prevailing atmosphere of intimidation and fear among activists in Iraq and highlighted the government’s struggle to bring armed groups into line.Two security officials told The Associated Press that one of the men on the motorcycle, the shooter, was arrested two weeks ago and confessed to the crime before an investigative judge. The man was connected to a militia group, they said, but did not name which one.The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi tweeted the development: “We promised to arrest the killers of Hisham al-Hashimi. We fulfilled the promise.”Later Friday, state Iraqiya TV station broadcast footage of the alleged suspect, showing him confessing to his purported crime. The man identifies himself in the video as Ahmed Hamdawi Al-Kinani, a police officer with the rank of first lieutenant in the Interior Ministry.According to Iraqi law he will be sent to trial for sentencing following his confession. He did not implicate any militia group in his confession.It is not unusual that officers and officials in Iraq have connections to militias working without or with the state’s endorsement. The government has struggled to reign them in, partly because they are so entrenched within the state structure.Security forces are still looking for at least six other individuals connected to the shooting, some of them believed to be abroad, the two officials told the AP. In his confession, al-Kinani said he had worked with four other accomplices.Killings of activists are pervasive in Iraq, with many blaming Iran-backed militias. Al-Hashimi, who had worked on a report about Iran-backed groups within Iraq’s establishment before he was killed, had reportedly received threats from such groups.
Iraqi medical officials say the death toll from a catastrophic hospital blaze in a southern city has risen to 64By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA Associated PressJuly 13, 2021, 9:49 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBAGHDAD — The death toll from a catastrophic blaze that erupted at a coronavirus hospital ward in southern Iraq the previous day rose to 64 on Tuesday, Iraqi medical officials said.Two health officials said more than 100 people were also injured in the fire that torched the coronavirus ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah on Monday.Anguished relatives were still looking for traces of their loved ones on Tuesday morning, searching through the debris of charred blankets and belongings inside the torched remains of the ward. A blackened skull of a deceased female patient from the ward was found.Many cried openly, their tears tinged with anger, blaming both the provincial government of Dhi Qar, where Nasiriyah is located, and the federal government in Baghdad for years of mismanagement and neglect.“The whole state system has collapsed, and who paid the price? The people inside here. These people have paid the price,” said Haidar al-Askari, who was at the scene of the blaze.Overnight, firefighters and rescuers — many with just flashlights and using blankets to extinguish small fires still smoldering in places — had frantically worked searching through the ward in the darkness. As dawn broke, bodies covered with sheets were laid on the ground outside the hospital.Earlier, officials had said the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, but provided no more details. Another official said the blaze erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.The new ward, opened just three months ago, contained 70 beds.Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi chaired an emergency meeting in the wake of the fire and ordered the suspension and arrest of the health director in Dhi Qar, as well as the director of the hospital and the city’s director of civil defense. A government investigation was also launched.In the nearby Shiite holy city of Najaf, mourners prepared to bury some of the victims.It was the second time a large fire killed coronavirus patients in an Iraqi hospital this year. At least 82 people died at Ibn al-Khateeb hospital in Baghdad in April, when an oxygen tank exploded, sparking the blaze.That incident brought to light widespread negligence and systemic mismanagement in Iraq’s hospitals. Doctors have decried lax safety rules, especially around the oxygen cylinders.On Monday, Ammar al-Zamili, spokesman for the Dhi Qar health department, told local media that there were at least 63 patients inside the ward when the fire began. Maj. Gen. Khalid Bohan, head of Iraq’s civil defense, said in comments to the press that the building was constructed from flammable materials and prone to fire.Iraq is in the midst of another severe COVID-19 surge. Daily coronavirus rates peaked last week at 9,000 new cases. After decades of war and sanctions, Iraq’s health sector has struggled to contain the virus. Over 17,000 people have died of the virus among 1.4 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.
BAGHDAD — The leader of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia has vowed to retaliate against America for the deaths of four of his men in a U.S. airstrike along the Iraq-Syria border last month, saying it will be a military operation everyone will talk about.Abu Alaa al-Walae, commander of Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad that the electoral victory of Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi as president will strengthen Iran-backed militant groups throughout the Middle East for the next four years.Al-Walae, who rarely gives interviews to foreign media organizations, spoke to the AP on Monday in an office in a Baghdad neighborhood along the Tigris River.On June 27, U.S. Air Force planes carried out airstrikes near the Iraq-Syria border against what the Pentagon said were facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups to support drone strikes inside Iraq. Four militiamen were killed.The Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi state-sanctioned umbrella of mostly Shiite militias — including those targeted by the U.S. strikes — said their men were on missions to prevent infiltration by the Islamic State group and denied the presence of weapons warehouses.U.S. troops in eastern Syria came under rocket fire the day after the airstrikes, with no reported casualties.The U.S. has blamed Iran-backed militias for attacks — most of them rocket strikes — that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq. More recently, the attacks have become more sophisticated, with militants using drones.U.S. military officials have grown increasingly alarmed over drone strikes targeting U.S. military bases in Iraq, more common since a U.S. drone killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a nonbinding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.In mid-April, an explosives-laden drone targeted the military section of the international airport in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region, causing no casualties or damages. The base also hosts American troops.U.S. officials said Iran-backed militias have conducted at least five drone attacks since April.After midnight Monday, a drone was shot down near the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad. There were no casualties. Two U.S. military officials said the drone was launched by Iranian proxies, adding that it was weaponized with explosives and was loitering over the U.S.-led coalition base in Baghdad.The officials said it was too early to identify the type of the drone. The U.S. Embassy said defense systems at the compound “engaged and eliminated an airborne threat.” The statement added that “we are working with our Iraqi partners to investigate” the attack.The bearded al-Walae, wearing a black shirt and trousers and an olive-green baseball cap, hinted that his militiamen might use drones in future attacks. He did not go into details. When asked if they used drones in the past against American troops in Iraq, he gave no straight answer and moved to other subjects.“We want an operation that befits those martyrs,” he said referring to the four fighters killed in late June. “Even if it comes late, time is not important.”“We want it to be an operation in which everyone says they have taken revenge on the Americans,” al-Walae said. “It will be a qualitative operation (that could come) from the air, the sea, along Iraq’s border, in the region or anywhere. It’s an open war.”Al-Walae spoke in an office decorated with a poster of Soleimani. On a table next to him, a framed photo shows al-Walae standing next to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.Al-Walae praised Iran’s new president, Raisi, who is scheduled to take office next month, saying Iran-backed militant groups “will have their best times.”Days after he was elected last month, Raisi said in his first remarks after the vote that he rejects the possibility of meeting with President Joe Biden or negotiating Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support of regional militias.Al-Walae, who was once held prisoner by U.S. troops in Iraq, boasted that his men were among the first to go to neighboring Syria to fight alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces in 2012, a year after the civil war there broke out. He said their first mission was to protect a Shiite holy shrine south of the capital, Damascus. They later fought in different parts of Syria.Iran-backed fighters from throughout the region have joined Syria’s conflict, helping tip the balance of power in Assad’s favor. Thousands of Iran-backed fighters remain in Syria, many of them deployed close to the Iraqi border in the towns of Boukamal and Mayadeen.Al-Walae also said he doesn’t expect Iraq’s parliamentary elections to take place on time in October, saying they might be postponed until April next year. He attributed the delay to the deep crisis the country is experiencing, including severe electricity cuts during the scorching summer.———Associated Press writer James La Porta contributed to this report from Washington.
BAGHDAD — When he heard on the news that Donald Rumsfeld had died, Ali Ridha al-Tamimi and his wife sat down with their four children and told them: “This is the person who ruined our country.”“He destroyed many families. And did it under the cover of liberation,” Tamimi later told The Associated Press. “I will never forgive him for the pain he caused us.”The heated emotions are shared by many in Iraq, where the name Rumsfeld is synonymous with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein — and deaths, arrests and torture that followed. The dark chapter in Iraq’s history still echoes in the daily lives of Iraqis today.Rumsfeld, the defense secretary for President George W. Bush, was one of the architects of the invasion that ousted Saddam on what turned out to be baseless accusations he was hiding weapons of mass destruction.Americans and their allies failed to plan much for what came next, and disbanded Iraqi security forces as one of their first steps — leading Iraqis to hold Rumsfeld and other American leaders responsible for years of unremitting sectarian bloodletting, extremist attacks and endless car bombings.Rumsfeld is also linked to the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad — an episode Rumsfeld later referred to as his darkest hour as defense secretary.The prison was known during Saddam’s rule as one of the main facilities for jailing and executing his opponents. After Saddam, Abu Ghraib became notorious once again, for the 2004 scandal over shocking abuses of detainees by American guards.When news broke of Rumsfeld’s death in the United States on Wednesday at 88, many Iraqis took to social media to express lingering anger and bitterness. They aired memories of the dark era in Iraq that Bush and Rumsfeld represent.Some tweeted: “Rot in Hell.” Others described Rumsfeld as a war criminal.Al-Tamimi said he holds Rumsfeld personally responsible for his own detention in 2006, on suspicion of undertaking in anti-U.S. activities, including, he said, allegations of inciting against the U.S. presence in Iraq. Speaking to the AP over the phone on Thursday, he would not elaborate.He was held in Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq for two years without a conviction. His son was just over a month old when he was detained. “He killed me while I was alive,” al-Tamimi said of Rumsfeld.Al-Tamimi’s son was growing up for those two years “not knowing he had a father or where he was,” he said. Al-Tamimi was later found innocent by an Iraqi court and freed in 2008.On social media, Iraqis shared stories of what Americans called a war of liberation gone horribly wrong for their country.Muntader al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist known for throwing his shoes at Bush during a 2008 news conference to vent his outrage at the U.S.-led invasion, tweeted: “He is gone and Baghdad remains.”In Washington, Rumsfeld’s former colleagues remembered him as simultaneously smart and combative, patriotic and politically cunning, with a career under four presidents that was tainted by the disastrous invasion of Iraq, for which Rumsfeld served as one of the most visible and vocal supporters.Bush on Wednesday hailed Rumsfeld’s “steady service as a wartime secretary of defense — a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.”But the memories of those whose lives and nation were changed by the U.S. administration’s actions could not have been more different.“Rumsfeld was a black mark on the history of Iraq. He brought the corrupt politicians that now control Iraq,” said Ihsan Alshamary, an Iraqi researcher in political affairs. He said Rumsfeld is responsible not just for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but for decisions that had calamitous effects on Iraq’s future.“As an Iraqi, I am relieved that one of the people responsible for the deaths of thousands, if not tens of thousands of Iraqis, is now dead. He will face his maker and have to answer for his transgressions in this life,” said Jawad al-Tai, a 45-year-old living in Baghdad.“He didn’t liberate us. This is a myth. He killed us and told us to thank him for it,” al-Tai said.In the wake of the invasion, many Iraqis were grateful to have Saddam removed by the Americans, and initially hopeful for their country’s future.But that changed as it became clear that the Americans were unsure how to proceed after gutting the Iraqi government and security forces — or how to deal with the violent Sunni extremist groups, militants and and Shiite militias, some backed by neighboring Iran, that sprang up in the resulting security vacuum.Sajad al-Rikabi, a 38-year-old Iraqi activist who participated in mass protests against government corruption in 2019, said he holds the U.S. responsible for the broken country that is Iraq today, and the post-war political class that now rules the land.“The only way I will say “Rest in Peace” for him, is if the U.S. comes in and dismantles the system he created,” al-Rikabi said of Rumsfeld. “All that we are protesting now came because of his policies.”———Associated Press writer Samya Kullab in Baghdad contributed to this report.