32 dead in Baghdad twin suicide blasts

Open-air market attack, Iraq's deadliest since 2018, happens as country prepares for polls

The scene after the suicide bombing yesterday in an open-air market for second-hand clothes in Baghdad's Tayaran Square. The market was teeming with people after nearly a year of pandemic curbs. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The scene after the suicide bombing yesterday in an open-air market for second-hand clothes in Baghdad's Tayaran Square. The market was teeming with people after nearly a year of pandemic curbs. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BAGHDAD • A rare twin suicide bombing killed at least 32 people and wounded some 110 in central Baghdad yesterday, Iraq's Health Ministry reported, the deadliest attack in three years.

The ministry said those who lost their lives had died at the scene of the attack, and that most of the wounded had been treated in hospitals and released.

The attack occurred in a huge open-air market for second-hand clothes in the Iraqi capital's Tayaran Square.

The market had been teeming with people, following nearly a year of restrictions imposed across the country in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

According to an Interior Ministry statement, the first suicide bomber rushed into the market, claiming to feel ill.

Once a crowd of people had gathered around him, he detonated his explosives.

As people then flocked around the victims, a second attacker detonated his bomb, the ministry said.

An Agence France-Presse photographer at the scene said security forces had cordoned off the area, where blood-stained clothes were strewn about the muddy streets.

Paramedics were working to remove casualties, and the Health Ministry said it had mobilised medics across the capital.

Yesterday's attack was the bloodiest incident in Baghdad since January 2018, when a suicide bomber - also in Tayaran Square - killed more than 30 people.

Suicide bombings had been commonplace in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the United States-led invasion in 2003.

Later on, as militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group swept across much of the country, its members also targeted the capital.

But, with ISIS' territorial defeat in late 2017, suicide bombings in the city became rare.

Baghdad's notorious concrete blast walls were dismantled and checkpoints across the city were removed.

The attack yesterday comes as Iraqis prepare for an election, an event which is often preceded by bombings and assassinations.

The 2018 attack took place just a few months before Iraq's last round of parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had originally set this year's general election for June, nearly a year ahead of schedule, in response to widespread protests in 2019.

But Iraq's Cabinet on Tuesday postponed the election to Oct 10 to give the electoral authorities more time to register voters and new parties.

The latest twin attack was not immediately claimed, but suicide bombings have been used by extremist Islamist groups, most recently by ISIS.

"Daesh terrorist groups might be behind the attacks," civil defence chief Kadhim Salman told reporters, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

ISIS seized a third of Iraq in 2014 and was dangerously close to the capital, but a ferocious three-year fight by Iraqi troops pushed them back.

Still, ISIS' sleeper cells have continued to operate in desert and mountain areas, typically targeting security forces or state infrastructure with low-casualty attacks.

The US-led coalition that had been supporting Iraq's campaign against ISIS has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing the increased capabilities of Iraqi troops.

The US, which provides the bulk of the force, has 2,500 troops left in Iraq - down from 5,200 a year ago.

They are mainly in charge of training, providing drone surveillance and carrying out air strikes, while Iraqi security forces handle security in urban areas.

Pope Francis, who hopes to visit Iraq in March, said he was "deeply saddened" by the "senseless" suicide bombings in Baghdad.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline '32 dead in Baghdad twin suicide blasts'. Subscribe