Bombing of Iraqi ministry hit nearby residents hard

Wisal al Khazeraje hasn't stepped into her home since an attack on the nearby Foreign Ministry cracked its walls. Her neighborhood was devastated by the bomb. Adam Ashton/Modesto Bee/MCT
Wisal al Khazeraje hasn't stepped into her home since an attack on the nearby Foreign Ministry cracked its walls. Her neighborhood was devastated by the bomb. Adam Ashton/Modesto Bee/MCT Adam Ashton / MCT

BAGHDAD — The suicide bomber who drove two tons of explosives to the base of Iraq's Foreign Ministry took aim at a symbol of the Iraqi government, but dozens of his victims lived in a clutch of small brick and mortar houses behind the ministry.

When the bomb exploded Wednesday, roofs collapsed and heavy walls tumbled down. Now, three days later, residents are sleeping outside, some on carpets where their families gather as the sun goes down; many simply on the bare streets.

"Next time it will fall on our heads and kill us," said Haider Chasibi, 22, whose home has suffered from three bombings that targeted the Foreign Ministry since 2006, the worst of which was Wednesday's. "It cannot take another explosion."

How the bomber managed to get his explosive load so close to such a key government ministry remains a mystery.

On Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki blamed "enemies of the state and people who want to take our successes and our gains" in a nationally televised address that sought to restore a sense of national unity after Wednesday's bombings, which also struck the Finance Ministry. The coordinated blasts killed at least 95 and wounded more than 1,200.

"They want us to return to the square of sectarian killing, kidnappings and destruction," he said, recalling the bloodshed of 2006 and 2007 when Iraqi religious sects engaged in a near civil war that killed thousands.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari suggested Saturday that people inside the Iraqi security forces had a hand in the attacks.

"Governmental agencies helped them, so we arrested different officers of different ranks to investigate the government," he said.

Baghdad police have announced that 11 police and military officers were arrested as part of an investigation into security lapses, though there has been little information about what charges they might face. Maliki said there have been other arrests, these of people thought to be directly involved in the bombing and that more information would be forthcoming.

In the meantime, residents in the neighborhood next to the Foreign Ministry are in shock.

They say that with the exception of Zebari, who handed out cash from his own pocket to families who lost relatives in the blast, no one from the government has offered them assistance since the blast tore through their homes.

They are forced to share food with one another. Many have forsaken the religious practice of fasting during the day during the holy month of Ramadan, which began Saturday. They need to eat when food is available.

"This is Ramadan and we want to fast," said Muayd Dakhil, 36. One of his walls and his living room ceiling collapsed during the explosion. His wife and two of his three children suffered head injuries.

"I am taking them from hospital to hospital so they have a place to sleep," he said under the sagging roof of his bedroom.

Thameer Kamal lost his 5-year-old grandson in the explosion. The boy's mother can't talk about the blast.

"After the explosion and it was clear he died, she kept picking him up and saying, 'Look, my boy is smiling at me,'" Kamal said.

Most of his family is now staying with relatives, but Kamal won't leave the house, though the ceiling is cracked and the floor covered with crumbled bits of mortar.

He wouldn't blame Maliki or lapses in Baghdad security for the bombings, focusing on his plea for help to rebuild the home where he has lived for 40 years.

"We are simple people. All we want is to live," he said.

(Adam Ashton reports for The Modesto (Calif.) Bee. McClatchy special correspondent Sahar Issa contributed to this report.)


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