BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A roadside bomb in the Shi’ite Kadhimiya district in northwest Baghdad killed seven people and wounded 23 on Wednesday, police said, a day after a bomb in the same area killed nine.
Kadhimiya is home to one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest shrines, and officials said the blast bore the hallmarks of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, which deems Iraq’s majority Shi’ites heretics and often attacks their mosques and religious festivals.
“What are the targets of these explosions? What do they want? They just target innocent people,” said Adnan Raheem, lying in a stretcher at Kadhimiya hospital after being wounded in the blast. Unconscious children lay nearby.
“Children, young people, the elderly — do these savages ask what they gain from these awful acts?”
Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups are still capable of frequent large-scale attacks, despite a sharp drop in violence in Iraq in the past year.
U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the improvement in security during a visit to Baghdad on Tuesday.
He has ordered the U.S. military to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by August 31, 2010, raising questions about how prepared the Iraqi security forces are to handle threats from militant groups by themselves.
A day before Obama’s unannounced visit, a series of seven car bombs killed 37 people in the capital.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed those attacks on members of Saddam Hussein’s once-powerful Baath party, labeling the blasts their “gift” to mark Tuesday’s 62nd anniversary of the party’s foundation in Syria.
Thursday is the sixth anniversary of Baghdad’s fall to invading U.S. troops, when a giant Saddam statue was pulled down in Firdos Square. Huge crowds are expected to join protests against the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
The head of the Badr Organization, the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), denied reports from a security source that it might have been behind Monday’s bombs.
ISCI is a Shi’ite Islamist party allied to Maliki’s Dawa party in parliament, although they have lately become estranged.
“These accusations ... are the price we pay for (our) steadfast position ... against the ... Baath party,” Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri told the ISCI-owned Al Furat TV station. “Al Qaeda and the Baath party lie behind the recent bombs.”
The current leader of the outlawed Baath party, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most senior of Saddam Hussein’s aides still at large, urged Iraqi insurgents to continue their struggle in a statement issued on Tuesday.
“I call upon you ... to be unified to destroy what remains of the invading forces and their agents,” he said, an apparent reference to the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
Iraqi police shut the city of Falluja on Wednesday, banning traffic and pedestrians as they hunted what they said was a group of al Qaeda militants carrying out bombings there.
Schools were closed, shops told to be shuttered and a curfew put in place from daybreak after explosions targeting police in the city, in the western desert province of Anbar, once the heartland of Sunni Islamist resistance to the U.S. invaders.
Around 35 people were arrested, a police official said, asking not to be named.
Additional reporting by Fadhel al-Badrani in Falluja; Writing by Tim Cocks