ISIL-claimed lorry bomb in Baghdad kills 54
BAGHDAD // A lorry bombing claimed by ISIL killed at least 54 people in a Shiite-majority area of Baghdad on Thursday.
Interior ministry spokesman Brig Gen Saad Maan said that 100 people were also wounded in what was the deadliest single attack in the city in months.
It came as prime minister Haider Al Abadi condemned comments made by the outgoing US army chief a day before, in which he warned that Iraq may ultimately have to be partitioned.
Thursday’s bomb went off in a wholesale vegetable market in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad at around 6am local time – peak time for shops buying produce. It devastated the market, ripping through buildings, killing horses used to transport vegetables and burning vehicles.
ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted online.
The extremist group frequently targets members of Iraq’s Shiite majority, whom it considers heretics, often striking in areas where crowds gather, such as markets and cafes, in a bid to cause maximum casualties.
The acting head of UN’s Iraq mission, Gyorgy Busztin, denounced the attack, calling it “an indiscriminate act of terrorism aimed at weakening the resolve of the Iraqi people”.
Such bombings are a significant source of tension in Iraq and have worsened the country’s sectarian divide.
Gen Raymond Odierno, who served as the top US commander in Iraq from 2008 to 2010, told a news conference on Wednesday that the country may ultimately have to be divided up.
Asked if reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites was possible, he said that “it’s becoming more difficult by the day” and pointed to a future in which “Iraq might not look like it did in the past”.
Questioned on partition, he said: “I think that is for the region and politicians to figure out, diplomats to figure out how to work this, but that is something that could happen.”
“It might be the only solution but I’m not ready to say that yet.”
Iraq has three main communities that would likely form the basis for any such partition: the Kurds, who already have an autonomous region, and the Sunni and Shiite Arabs.
Kurds dominate the country’s north and Shiites the south, while the Sunni Arab population is distributed across western, northern and central Iraq.
But for now, “we have to deal with [ISIL] first and decide what [the country] will look like afterwards,” Gen Odierno said.
On Thursday, Mr Al Abadi’s media office said that Gen Odierno’s comments were “irresponsible” and reflect “an ignorance of the Iraqi reality”.
The United States is a key partner in Iraq’s battle against ISIL, leading a coalition that is carrying out air strikes against the militants and training Baghdad’s forces.
But the issue of partition is an extremely sensitive one for Mr Al Abadi’s government, which is fighting to regain lost territory and keep the country united.
Thursday’s blast came two days after bombings in the province of Diyala province, north-east of the capital, which killed more than 30 people.
A massive suicide attack in the province killed more than 120 last month, one of the deadliest single bombings in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.
On Thursday, Germany said that ISIL had carried out a chemical weapons attack against Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, causing respiratory problems but no deaths.
The German defence ministry, which is providing arms and weapons training to the Kurdish forces, said that “American and Iraqi specialists from Baghdad are on their way to find out what happened”.
A senior official from the Kurdish peshmerga said that the attack had wounded several dozen fighters.
“Last Tuesday afternoon, peshmerga forces in the Makhmur area 50 kilometres west of the city of Erbil were attacked with Katyusha rockets filled with chlorine,” the official said.
ISIL has allegedly used chemical weapons on multiple occasions in Iraq and Syria, but such attacks have been limited and have had less impact than bombings carried out by the group.
Meanwhile, the governor of Iraq’s Anbar province said on Thursday that he was sacking all aides as part of Mr Al Abadi’s crackdown on corruption and incompetence to boost the government in its battle against ISIL.
The announcement came two days after parliament unanimously approved Mr Al Abadi’s sweeping reform plan – the biggest shake-up in Iraq’s governing system since the US military occupation.
His reform drive is especially important in Anbar, the Sunni heartland in western Iraq where Baghdad is focusing its offensive against ISIL, which has seized the provincial capital Ramadi.
Governor Sohaib Al Rawi said he was dismissing all of his aides and advisers as well as district managers who had been in their posts for more than four years or had performed poorly.
Echoing language used by Mr Al Abadi, Mr Al Rawi said that future appointments would be made “on the basis of experience and competence” and “according to need and specialisation”.
* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Reuters
Published: August 13, 2015 04:00 AM