BAGHDAD — A devastating truck bomb struck a food market early Thursday morning in the teeming Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, killing about 60 people and wounding more than 100 others, according to security officials.
The blast, which was almost immediately claimed by the Islamic State, came just after dawn, when the market was already crowded with shoppers stocking up on fruit and vegetables for the weekend. Explosions have been almost daily occurrences in Baghdad for years, but even by this city’s grim standards, the death toll was particularly high.
As always, timing determined who lived and who died. Rassol Ghalib, 20, a resident of Sadr City, normally visits the market on Thursday morning, but on this day, he woke up just a little later than usual.
“On my way over, I heard the sound of a very big explosion, and then I managed to drive there and when I arrived, it was a horrible scene of bodies and dead people lying everywhere,” he said. “There was blood everywhere, and people were running. It was really a horrible scene, and many cars and shops were destroyed and burned.”
The bombing demonstrated the continued ability of the Sunni militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, to wreak havoc inside the Iraqi capital, mostly in Shiite neighborhoods, even as the group maintains control of a vast territory in the north and west of the country.
In recent weeks, the Islamic State has carried out several bombings in government-controlled territory that have been particularly destructive. Last month, a bombing in Diyala Province killed at least 100 people and was the largest single attack in Iraq in years. Two other bombings in Diyala, an area largely controlled by government-allied Shiite militias, killed at least 50 people on Monday.
“In a blessed operation,” the Islamic State said in a statement released on social media, “God has enabled the soldiers of the Islamic State to detonate a parked, booby-trapped truck amid a gathering of apostates in one of their most important Shiite majority strongholds, in Sadr City.”
The bombing, which was carried out with the use of a refrigerated truck, according to the Interior Ministry, also highlighted the continuing challenges to the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in securing the capital.
Mr. Abadi recently pushed forward a set of measures aimed at radically restructuring the political system and rooting out corruption. The measures, which gained the approval of Parliament on Tuesday, came in response to antigovernment protests that have swelled in the streets, as well as to the demands of the Shiite religious leadership in the holy city of Najaf.
Those measures have earned Mr. Abadi a new degree of popularity with the public, but each time a devastating attack occurs, anger among the population at the government’s inability to maintain security spreads.
The Islamic State is “targeting the innocents and leaving the criminals of the Green Zone alive,” said Haider Ahmed, a Sadr City resident who lost two cousins in the bombing, referring to the fortified area of Baghdad that houses the main government buildings and the homes of many officials.
Hussein Salih, 36, was in his shop on Thursday morning, about 100 yards from where the truck exploded. He woke up later in the hospital with shrapnel wounds.
“What is the role of the checkpoints?” he asked angrily. “How come a food truck full of explosives could enter the market? I hope this explosion does not make the situation worse and does not lead to revenge attacks.”
The assault came as an offensive by the Iraqi security forces on Islamic State strongholds in western Anbar Province — near the cities of Falluja and Ramadi — has stalled. Those operations are being carried out with the support of an American-led air campaign, but the fighting has been slow, partly because of so many roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings.
“This is a war,” Saad Maan, the spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said in an interview. “We are expecting more attacks as long as we are advancing in areas of operation against ISIS.”
Later on Thursday, residents of Sadr City said they would erect tents for funerals on Friday, rather than attend a street gathering that had been scheduled to support Mr. Abadi’s political overhaul.
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(via NY Times)