U.S. blamed for deadly day in Iraq

By Laura King

Los Angeles Times

March 30, 2007

BAGHDAD — Angry rhetoric in some Shiite Muslim mosques today blamed the United States for one of Iraq's bloodiest days in months, a pair of bombings Thursday that killed more than 125 people in a Baghdad market and a town north of the capital.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, captured a man described as a key figure behind roadside bombings that have taken a heavy toll on American troops. The suspect was not named, but U.S. officials have blamed Shiite militias backed by Iran with planting sophisticated armor-piercing devices that have killed scores of U.S. servicemen.

The raid took place in Sadr City, a vast Shiite slum that is a militia stronghold.

The neighborhood echoed today with cries of mourning in the wake of a lethal bombing on Thursday in the nearby Shiite district of Shaab. A dual suicide attack in the Shalal market killed about 80 people and injured more than 100. Sadr City's main hospital remained packed today with wounded people, many of them women and children.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military today reported the death of a soldier a day earlier in a roadside bombing in south Baghdad that left a second service member wounded. More than 3,200 American servicemen have been killed in Iraq since the war began just over four years ago.

For the past six weeks, American and Iraqi forces have been carrying out a concerted security sweep aimed at quelling raging violence in the capital. At the same time, though, attacks have increased in provincial cities and towns.

In one such attack, a massive bombing Tuesday in a mainly Shiite area in the northern town of Tal Afar killed about 85 people and triggered a round of sectarian reprisal killings that left dozens of Sunni men dead.

Authorities arrested 18 Shiite policemen and then released them in an apparent bid to stave off violent protests by Shiites. Local authorities said today that the 18 policemen had been re-arrested.

Sectarian tensions were an underlying theme in many mosque sermons delivered today, the Muslim holy day. But some leading clerics sought to blame the United States for the recent surge of attacks. U.S. officials, in turn, have accused Al Qaeda of fomenting Sunni-Shiite strife.

Radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, in remarks read out at a mosque in the holy city of Kufa, issued a fiery call for U.S. troops to quit Iraq.

"I renew my call for the occupier to leave our land," he said in the sermon read by a follower, according to The Associated Press. "The departure of the occupier will mean stability for Iraq, victory for Islam and peace and defeat for terrorism and infidels."

laura.king@latimes.com

Staff writer King reported from Baghdad. Raheem Salman and Zeena Hamid contributed to this report from Baghdad.