BAGHDAD — Two massive suicide attacks killed at least 76 people and possibly dozens more Thursday in Iraq, the latest signs that the country’s hard-won security gains are beginning to reverse.
The explosions came roughly two months before U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraqi cities. President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw most Americans from the country by late 2010, but the renewed violence is raising concerns about what might happen after U.S. troops leave Iraq and the military shifts its focus toward Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The first explosion took place in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood at around 12:30 p.m. and killed at least 28 people, Iraqi police said.
Witnesses said the bomber blew herself up near a crowd of people who were getting food from a local humanitarian organization, the Iraqi Red Crescent. At least 50 people were wounded.
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“Organs were everywhere,” said Amina Abdullah, 52, who heard the explosion from her apartment and ran to help the victims. “I helped cover the bodies. . . . One family lost eight members.”
In the second attack, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest detonated it in a crowded restaurant in the northeastern province of Diyala, killing at least 48 people and wounding more than 60, police said.
That explosion happened around 2:30 p.m., lunchtime for Iraqis, at the popular Khnaqeen Restaurant along a heavily used road 30 miles east of Baqouba. Travelers and religious tourists frequent the restaurant, and most patrons inside Thursday were Iranian pilgrims, according to police at the scene.
They said the restaurant was badly damaged, and they expect to find many more victims under the rubble.
Violence has been rising in Iraq for the past two months or so. In Baghdad alone, there have been at least 33 explosions so far in April.
Thursday’s bombings, with their massive death tolls, are reminiscent of attacks that crippled Iraq for much of 2006 and 2007.
“The bombings today show that there are people out there who do not value human life,” Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a U.S. military spokesman, said in an e-mail. “These attacks are an attempt to incite violence, but the Iraqi people have shown that they are rejecting this bankrupt philosophy.”
At the site of the Baghdad explosion, bloody shoes and remnants of the food that was being distributed still littered the ground hours afterward. An old woman sat weeping at the scene, screaming that her son had died.
Butrus Esam, who witnessed the attack, struggled to accept what he’d seen.
“I helped two wounded people, and their blood is still on my shirt,” said Esam, who's 30. “Those who do such things don’t belong to any religion.”
A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as a matter of embassy policy, said that his office had sent a representative to the scene of the Diyala bombing to account for the Iranian victims.
He said the embassy thought that all but a few of those killed were Iranian pilgrims.
Also on Thursday, state television reported that the alleged head of al Qaida in Iraq, Abu Omar al Baghdadi, has been captured.
The government-run channel quoted Baghdad security spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta as saying that Baghdadi had been arrested in the city.
Iraqi officials have made the same claim several times in the past, and each time it's proved to be false. Many think that Baghdadi may not exist. Reilly reports for the Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star. Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special correspondent Sahar Issa contributed to this story, as well as a special correspondent in Diyala who isn't being named for security reasons.
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