Num­ber of dead ap­proaches 130 in Is­lamic State bomb­ing of Iraqi mar­ket

Group’s dead­li­est at­tack to date tar­geted Shi­ites pre­par­ing for fes­ti­val

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY MUSTAFA SALIM AND LOVE­DAY MOR­RIS love­day.mor­ris@wash­post.com

bagh­dad — The death toll from a bomb­ing at a crowded mar­ket­place in eastern Iraq climbed to as many as 130 on Satur­day, Iraqi of­fi­cials said, mark­ing the Is­lamic State’s worst sin­gle bomb­ing at­tack on a civil­ian tar­get in the coun­try.

Imad Muthanna, a spokesman for the Diyala pro­vin­cial coun­cil, said that in ad­di­tion to those killed, 20 more peo­ple were miss­ing af­ter a sui­cide bomber drove a truck packed with ex­plo­sives into a mar­ket in Khan Bani Saad on Fri­day night. A Diyala health of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to give out in­for­ma­tion, said 126 peo­ple had been killed, but ex­pected the num­ber to con­tinue to climb.

The mar­ket in the largely Shi­ite town 20 miles north­east of Bagh­dad was teem­ing with fam­i­lies mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for the Mus­lim fes­ti­val of Eid al-Fitr as the blast tore through the street with dev­as­tat­ing im­pact, col­laps­ing sev­eral build­ings. Bod­ies lit­tered the area as sec­ondary fires spread.

Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, and al-Qaeda be­fore them, have car­ried out scores of bomb­ings against civil­ians as they seek to desta­bi­lize the coun­try and ex­pand their ter­ri­tory. How­ever, Fri­day night’s blast was the big­gest in Iraq since the group an­nounced its self-de­clared state a year ago.

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi de­scribed the at­tack as a “heinous crime” that would not go un­pun­ished.

“I felt the ground shak­ing,” saidMaj. Ahmed al-Tim­imi, 35, a po­lice of­fi­cer who was man­ning a nearby check­point and ar­rived on the scene about 10 min­utes af­ter the bomb­ing. “Most of the mar­ket was wiped out. Hun­dreds of cars were burn­ing, and bod­ies and hu­man or­gans were ev­ery­where.”

Tim­imi said the emer­gency ser­vices were over­whelmed, and res­i­dents trans­ported wounded civil­ians in shop­ping carts. “It wasn’t enough. Too many wounded peo­ple died be­fore they got to the hos­pi­tal,” he said, adding that bod­ies are still be­ing re­cov­ered from the wreck­age of de­stroyed build­ings.

“Eid should be joy­ful, but those ter­ror­ists have made it a black day,” he said. “Each Eid we will re­mem­ber this, and we’ll never be able to be happy dur­ing Eid again.”

For Shi­ite Mus­lims in Iraq, Fri­day was the eve of the Eid fes­ti­val, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. For Sunni Mus­lims, it fell a day ear­lier.

In a state­ment cir­cu­lated on Twit­ter, the Is­lamic State group said the at­tack was car­ried out us­ing three tons of ex­plo­sives and was in re­venge for the killing of Sunni Mus­lims in Haw­ija, in neigh­bor­ing Kirkuk province.

The at­tack struck an “ugly sec­tar­ian chord,” the Iraqi par­lia­ment’s Sunni speaker, Salim alJabouri, told the As­so­ci­ated Press on Satur­day.

Is­lamic State mil­i­tants have largely been pushed out of the eastern province of Diyala since seiz­ing ter­ri­tory dur­ing their rapid ad­vances a year ago, but pock­ets of fight­ing re­main. Both Kur­dish and Iraqi Shi­ite mili­tia forces that led oper­a­tions to se­cure the mixed province have been ac­cused of not al­low­ing Sunni Mus­lims back to their homes, ramp­ing up sec­tar­ian ten­sion.

Lt. Gen Ab­du­lamir al-Zaidi, the army com­man­der re­spon­si­ble for Diyala province, said the Is­lamic State had car­ried out the at­tack to cause in­sta­bil­ity be­cause the mil­i­tants are too weak to fight on the front lines.

But Fo­rat al-Tim­imi, a par­lia­men­tar­ian from Diyala, said mil­i­tants were still ac­tive on the edges of the province.

“We should not un­der­es­ti­mate the dan­ger,” he said. “This or­ga­ni­za­tion is a can­cer­ous tu­mor.”

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