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Slaughter in Baghdad's Bird Market

Bombers Target Shia Civilians

by PATRICK COCKBURN

A bomb in the Baghdad bird market killed 15 people and wounded 55 yesterday in the latest savage bombing aimed at Shia civilians.

Iraqis have always loved song birds and often keep them as pets. They buy and sell them in the Ghazil market, a tattered collection of booths in front of a mosque in the centre of the city. Here canaries, parrots, doves, pigeons, falcons and many other types of bird are on show every Friday morning.

Even by the vicious standards of Baghdad bombers yesterday’s attack was cruelly devised. Police said they believed that the explosives, timer and detonator had been hidden in a cardboard box that the bomber had pierced with air holes so it looked as if it contained birds. It blew up just before 11am when a curfew on vehicles starts, with the aim of protecting people going to the mosques for Friday prayers.

There was blood on the ground where the bomb had gone off. Small birds who survived the blast still chirruped in their cages. Bedraggled black Shia prayer flags hung from buildings. Although Iraqis from all sects attend the market it is in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood.

One by one the landmarks of Baghdad are disappearing, engulfed by the torrent of violence. Not far from Ghazil used to be the al-Muthanabi book market where on a Friday the booksellers would lay their books, often Shakespeare and Dickens, on the ground. But it is now in one of the most dangerous parts of town and is ill-frequented when it takes place at all.

The recent bomb attacks have been directed at areas where large numbers of Shia, usually attending markets, could be caught and killed by the blast. On Monday a bomb in Bab al-Sharji market killed at least 88 people and wounded 150. The bombs are all part of the sectarian war that is tearing Baghdad apart. The Sunni slaughter Shia by indiscriminate bombings while the Shia kill Sunni largely through picking them up at checkpoints, often controlled by Shia.

Between 20 and 40 bodies are found in the street every day, although there has been a slight fall recently probably because the main Shia militia, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, wants to avoid direct confrontation with the US army. It has also decided to deprive the US of a target by supporting the security plan for Baghdad. Sadrist ministers this week returned to their jobs ending a boycott which began when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met President Bush without calling for US withdrawal.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, published by Verso in October.