BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 28 people in an attack on tribal leaders and security officials in western Baghdad on Tuesday, the second big attack in the Iraqi capital in three days.
Security spokesman Major-General Qassim Moussawi said the bombing killed 28 people and wounded 28 others as dignitaries toured a crowded market in the Abu Ghraib district. State TV footage showed bodies strewn across the blast site.
But other official sources put the toll as high as 33 dead and 52 wounded, saying that security personnel, civilians, women and children were killed.
Officials have often blamed Sunni Islamist al Qaeda or militants loyal to Saddam Hussein’s banned Baath party for such blasts. Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government says it is trying to repair ties with its Sunni minority after years of bloodshed.
“Reconciliation is the response to the devilish acts that try to wreck nationalist efforts,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said of the bombing.
Al-Baghdadiya, an independent television station, said two of its journalists were killed in the attack. A journalist at Al-Iraqiya state television said four colleagues were wounded.
“We heard a huge explosion, then there was haphazard shooting on us from somewhere far away and the army fired back,” said Iraqiya cameraman Raed Qassim, a friend of both killed journalists who carried a wounded colleague to hospital.
“I am in shock, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I keep seeing images of my friends dying and I can’t help them,” he said.
Abu Ghraib mayor Shakir Fiza said a senior Interior Ministry official was headed to a tribal reconciliation conference in Abu Ghraib’s municipal headquarters. The official got out of his car and was talking to people at the market when the bomber struck.
While violence has dropped sharply in Iraq since the height of the sectarian and insurgent killing unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, insurgents still stage regular attacks, especially in the volatile northern city of Mosul.
On Tuesday, a car bomb killed two civilians and wounded six people in al-Hamdaniya, just east of Mosul.
The improvement in security has been particularly effective in Baghdad, where Iraqis are cautiously resuming a more normal life. Yet violence continues to strike there. On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed 28 people at the main police academy.
“We expect these things to happen from time to time, especially when there are political openings bringing together different parties,” said security spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhli, blaming al Qaeda or Baath party loyalists for the attack.
Political analyst Hazim al-Nuaimi said that officials should not be so quick to blame al Qaeda.
“These attacks raise questions about political power struggles,” he said.
The latest attack took place days after the United States said it would reduce its 140,000 troops before a full withdrawal date by the end of 2011, which has led some to wonder whether local forces will be ready to prevent Iraq sliding back into large-scale war.
In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters he was not aware of any concerns that President Barack Obama’s announcement that all combat troops would be withdrawn by the end of August 2010 encouraged such attacks.
“I know the president and the team remain committed to ensuring that Iraq is a stable and secure country,” he said.
Reconciliation among rival political factions is proving even more difficult than combating insurgents. Different factions remain deeply suspicious of each other.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite whose political fortunes were strengthened following local polls, has stepped up calls for reconciliation in the past few days.
But many opponents see such calls as rhetoric and accuse Maliki’s government of blocking steps to reincorporate thousands of former Baath party members, who were fired by U.S. authorities in 2003, back into the government.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Wisam Mohammed, Writing by Missy Ryan
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.