White House says Baghdad attacks strengthen US resolve in Iraq

Iraqi women walk past a damaged building at the site of a suicide car bombing  on July 3, 2016 in Baghdad's central Karrada district.
Iraqi women walk past a damaged building at the site of a suicide car bombing on July 3, 2016 in Baghdad's central Karrada district. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Sunday (July 3) condemned bombings in Baghdad that killed nearly 120 people and wounded 200, saying the attack only strengthened the United States' resolve to confront Islamic State militants.

"We remain united with the Iraqi people and government in our combined efforts to destroy ISIL," the White House statement said, using an acronym for the self-declared Islamic State.

A refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up in Baghdad's central district of Karrada, killing 115 people and injuring at least 200. In a second attack, a roadside device exploded around midnight in a market in al-Shaab, a Shi'ite district, killing at least two people, police and medical sources said.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bloodshed in a statement circulated online by supporters of the extremist Sunni group. It said the truck blast was a suicide bombing.

The attack on the shopping area of Karrada is the deadliest since US-backed Iraqi forces last month cleared Islamic State militants from their stronghold of Falluja, an hour's drive west of the capital. The weekend market bombing was the deadliest so far this year.

The head of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, has said Islamic State may find targets away from battlefields where the group has faced losses. "To compensate for territorial losses, ISIL (Islamic State) will probably rely more on guerrilla tactics, including high-profile attacks outside territory it holds," Brennan told lawmakers last month.

Republican critics have faulted President Barack Obama for his administration's handling of the current turmoil in Syria and Iraq, with some calling for a more aggressive approach, more troops on the ground.

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on Sunday said US soldiers could help eradicate Islamic State in Iraq. "What we need to do is go to Iraq and kill them," McCain said on CBS Face the Nation. "And you can do that with 10,000 of a 100,000 person contingent using American capabilities."

The United States said in April it would send more troops to Iraq and put them nearer the front lines to advise Iraqi forces in their campaign against extremist militias. The increase raises the authorised troop level in Iraq to 4,087, not including special operations personnel, some logistics workers and troops on temporary rotations. Since December, Iraqi forces have taken back territory from Islamic State, which seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.