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Middle east

Fresh wave of violence as US departure deadline looms

©

Video by Luke BROWN , Lise BARCELLINI

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-25

Hundreds of angry Iraqis have gathered at the site of a market bombing where 78 people died on Wednesday to protest against a recent string of deadly blasts, as the US military prepares to pull out of towns and cities by June 30.

AFP - At least six people died in a new wave of bomb and gun attacks in Iraq on Thursday, as the families of 62 people killed in a Baghdad market bombing began to bury their loved ones.

The White House, meanwhile, insisted that Washington was not reconsidering pulling US troops out of Iraqi cities.

Wednesday's attack in a market in the predominantly Shiite slum neighbourhood of Sadr City in northeast Baghdad was one of the deadliest this year, and also left about 150 people wounded, officials said.

In fresh attacks targeting civilians in the capital, two people were killed and 31 wounded when two bombs went off within hours of each other at a bus station in southeast Baghdad.

The chief of security for the station was arrested after the attack.

Nine US soldiers were also wounded on Thursday when two roadside bombs hit their patrol in eastern Baghdad, the US army said.

And in western Iraq, four Iraqi policemen were killed in two separate incidents near the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, police officials said.

A homemade bomb targeting a police patrol killed three officers, while a fourth policeman died in a drive-by shooting at a security checkpoint.

On Wednesday, a motorcycle rickshaw loaded with explosives covered with fruit and vegetables caused a massive blast at a busy time in the Sadr City market.

The attacker jumped off the rickshaw and managed to escape before the bomb was set off.

"I heard a boom and saw a ball of fire," said 30-year-old father-of-two Najim Ali, who was shopping in the market when the bomb went off.

"I saw cars flying in the air because of the force of the explosion," he added, saying he fainted shortly after the attack and awoke to find himself in a nearby hospital.

It was the third major attack in Iraq this month, and means that June's death toll from violence will top the 155 Iraqis killed in May.

A June 20 truck bombing near the northern city of Kirkuk killed 72 people and wounded more than 200 in the deadliest attack in 16 months, and on June 10, a car bomb attack in the largely peaceful province of Dhi Qar killed 19 people.

Despite the bombings, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, had told President Barack Obama the June 30 deadline for American troops to leave Iraqi cities, towns and villages would be kept.

Asked whether Obama had any second thoughts about the pullback, or whether he had approached the Iraqi government about a change in arrangements, Gibbs said "No, No."

Iraqi security forces came in for criticism over the Sadr City bombing, with local residents throwing rocks and shouting at soldiers who fired rounds into the air in a bid to clear the area after the attack.

"Explosions like this confirm that the Iraqi security forces are not able to protect the people from violence or war," 20-year-old local resident Saif Mohammed said.

But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki put at least part of the blame on the silence of Arab and Muslim countries on calls by a senior Saudi cleric for Shiite scholars to be killed.

The flare-up of attacks throughout Iraq were part of "a plan that aims to awaken sectarianism, create chaos, abort the political process and prevent Iraqi people from standing on their own feet," he said.

Earlier this month, Maliki warned that insurgents and militiamen were likely to step up their attacks in a bid to undermine confidence in Iraq's own security forces.

UN Special Representative Staffan de Mistura condemned the Sadr City attack, saying that "nothing can excuse this deliberate attempt to kill large numbers of men, women, students and children."

Violence has dropped markedly in Iraq in recent months, with May seeing the lowest Iraqi death toll since the 2003 invasion. But attacks remain common, particularly in Baghdad and Mosul.

Date created : 2009-06-25

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