Iraqis turn on police after funeral bombing kills dozens

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 27, 2011 

BAGHDAD _ After the latest in a rash of major bombings in Iraq _ a suicide attack at a Baghdad funeral Thursday that police said left 48 people dead and 121 injured _ a crowd of angry Iraqis turned on the security forces that have been unable to protect them.

Perhaps inspired by the protest movement that's sweeping the Arab world, demonstrators fired guns in the air, hurled stones and shouted curses at police officers who responded to the scene of the funeral attack, residents said. Five other people were killed in four separate bombings Thursday morning in various parts of Baghdad, bringing the death toll in a two-week spike in violence to more than 200, and marking the first time in this recent wave that violence has reached the capital.

While the circumstances of Iraq's fledgling democracy couldn't be more different from those of the long-standing regimes of Tunisia, Egypt or Yemen, Thursday's spontaneous outburst offered the first inkling that the clashes in other Arab capitals could be replicated here.

As it emerges from civil war, Iraq features one of the most inclusive governments in the region but it remains dogged by sectarian rivalries and terrorist attacks aimed at undermining the new order. With the 48,000 remaining U.S. troops due to withdraw at the end of the year, many Iraqis harbor serious doubts about their security forces' ability to keep the peace even after last year saw the lowest number of fatalities since 2003, the year of the invasion.

Despite the recent high-profile arrests of dozens of suspected terrorists, including many linked to Iraq's al Qaida affiliate, Iraqis continue to be killed in attacks that target security forces, government installations and Shiite Muslim pilgrims.

Assassinations of senior police officers are also on the rise.

The funeral bombing _ which Iraqis said bore the hallmarks of al Qaida-linked Sunni Muslim terrorists, who often attack public gatherings _ struck in the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Shaula, a poor, densely packed section of northwest Baghdad. Police said mourners had gathered under a tent for a large public funeral when the car bomb exploded and the tent went up in flames.

Residents said the demonstrators were outraged that Iraqi police had allowed the attack, because Shaula is relatively small and has only one entrance, which is guarded by a police checkpoint.

"People were so angry, and they demonstrated against the security forces," said Hussein Ali, a 43-year-old engineer. "They have the right to do that, because Shaula is not that big a neighborhood to protect."

The mob marched to the nearby police headquarters before police withdrew from the area, police sources said. An Iraqi army unit was called in to quell the protests, and a curfew was declared.

"I saw many bodies on the ground and some burning cars," said a young teacher who lives in Shaula, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity in order to shield herself from reprisals.

Some residents speculated that another funeral nearby, for the Baghdad mayor's mother, could have been the intended target but the roads that led to it had been closed.

(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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For more news from the Middle East, see McClatchy's Middle East Diary.

01-27-11 ja-ba

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