February 25, 2007
BAGHDAD, Iraq —
The leader of Iraq's biggest Shiite militia complained Sunday that bombs "continue to explode" in Baghdad and that U.S.-led security crackdown is doomed to fail, issuing a statement the same day a suicide attacker struck outside a college campus, killing at least 41 people.
Many Shiites believe that bombings have continued because the Shiite-led government bowed to American pressure and persuaded the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to take his Mahdi Army fighters off the streets.
Al-Sadr's statement, read to his followers in Sadr City, is likely to add pressure on U.S. and Iraqi forces to show results in the nearly two-week-old crackdown.
"I'm certain, just like all oppressed Iraqis are certain, that no security plan will work and no good will come of any occupier," al-Sadr said in the statement. "Here we are, watching booby trapped cars exploding to harvest thousands of innocent lives from our beloved people in the middle of a security plan that is controlled by an occupier who does as he pleases."
U.S. and Iraqi leaders have urged the public to be patient, warning that it will take months before the security operation shows results. President Bush has ordered 21,500 more U.S. troops to Baghdad and surrounding areas, although the last units are not due until May.
Al-Sadr urged Iraq's mostly Shiite security forces to "make your own Iraqi plans independent of the Americans."
Most of the victims of Sunday's bombing were students at the college, a business studies annex of Mustansiriyah University that was hit by a series of deadly explosions last month. At least 46 people were injured in Sunday's blast.
The suicide attacker detonated a bomb-rigged belt near the main entrance to the college, where students were resuming midterm exams after the two-day weekend in Iraq. Police said that guards confronted the bomber as he tried to enter the college grounds.
A 22-year-old student, Muhanad Nasir, said he saw a commotion at the gate. "Then there was an explosion. I did not feel anything for 15 minutes and when I returned to consciousness, I found myself in the hospital," said Nasir, who was wounded in his head and chest.
The blast left cement walls pockmarked by shrapnel and twisted parts of the metal gate and turnstile. Parents rushed to the site and some collapsed in tears after learning their children were killed or injured. Students used rags and towels to try to mop up the blood.
The school is in a mostly Shiite district of northeast Baghdad, but does not limit its enrollment to that group. The main campus of Mustansiriyah University, about 1 1/2 miles away, was the target of twin car bombs and a suicide blast last month that killed 70 people.
Earlier, two Katyusha rockets hit a Shiite enclave in southern Baghdad, killing at least 10, and a bomb near the fortified Green Zone claimed two lives, police said.
The Green Zone houses the U.S. and British embassies and key Iraqi government offices. The blast was about 100 yards from the Iranian Embassy, but authorities did not believe it was targeting the compound.
A separate car bombing in a Shiite district in central Baghdad killed at least one person and injured four, police said.
In the northern city of Mosul, U.S. troops killed two gunmen in a raid and captured a suspected local leader of the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq, the military said. Additional details were no immediately available.
Iraq's interior ministry, meanwhile, raised the toll from a suicide truck bombing in the violence-wracked Anbar province on Saturday to 52 dead and 74 injured.
The attack on worshippers leaving a mosque in Habbaniyah, about 50 miles west of Baghdad, was believed linked to escalating internal Sunni battles between insurgents and those who oppose them.
U.S. military envoys and pro-government leaders have worked hard to sway clan chiefs and other influential Anbar figures to turn against the militants, who include foreigners fighting under the banner of al-Qaida in Iraq. The extremists have fought back with targeted killings and bombings against fellow Sunnis.
The imam of the mosque attacked Saturday had spoken out against extremists -- most recently in Friday's sermon, residents said. Many people in the neighborhood work for the Iraqi military and police forces, who frequently come under militant attack.
Iraqi officials have reported a sharp drop in sectarian reprisal killings in the capital since the operation began. Al-Sadr's Mahdi militia has been blamed for many of those deaths, and the decline could be because many of their fighters are lying low.
The cleric's statement was his first public comment since U.S. officials said last week that he had left the country, probably for Iran.
Al-Sadr's aides and lawmakers loyal to him have insisted that he had never left the country and Iran denied he was there. An aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last week that al-Sadr went to Iran about three weeks earlier. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information to the media.
In the statement, al-Sadr called on both Sunnis and Shiites to "scorn sectarianism and hoist the banner of unity."
Associated Press writer Lauren Frayer in Tikrit contributed to this report.