At least 14 people were killed and 31 wounded in a series of car bombings in Baghdad on Thursday, the third day of a rise in insurgent violence.
Three car bombs detonated in quick succession in a vegetable market in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad. At least seven people died and 20 were wounded, a police officer said. Another bomb exploded in central Baghdad at rush hour, killing four people and wounding 11, two other police officers said. A separate car bomb in eastern Baghdad killed at least three, police sources told Reuters.
There has been a spike in violence this week as the Iraqi government prepares to launch a U.S.-backed security crackdown in Baghdad, seen as a last chance to save Iraq from descending into an all-out civil war.
Iraqi officials have said they were worried that a failure of the plan would also see the end of U.S. support as President Bush would be forced to change course.
Bush tried to shore up support within his Republican party for his strategy to send about 21,500 extra U.S. troops to Iraq to stabilize Baghdad and Anbar province.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, told London’s Times newspaper in comments published on Thursday that Iraq’s need for U.S. troops could fall in three to six months if the United States equipped Iraqi security forces with sufficient weapons.
“I wish that we could receive strong messages of support from the U.S. so we don’t give some boost to the terrorists and make them feel that they might have achieved success,” he said.
The United Nations said earlier this week that more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in violence last year. The Iraqi government has previously called U.N. data exaggerated.
At least 15 people were killed on Wednesday when a bomb ripped through a crowded market in Sadr City, a poor Shiite district in northeast Baghdad.
On Tuesday, at least 105 people were killed in bombings and a shooting in the capital, including 70 at a Baghdad university not far from Sadr City. Al-Maliki blamed supporters of Saddam Hussein who was hanged on Dec. 30. Two Saddam aides, one of them his half-brother, were hanged on Monday.
Sadr City is the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and blamed for most of the sectarian killing by death squads in Baghdad. Iraqi officials have said that the Baghdad security plan was aimed at crushing the Mahdi Army and other militias.
With polls showing most Americans oppose the troop build-up, some senators from the Republican and Democratic sides unveiled a nonbinding resolution opposing the increase, although Bush has vowed not to be swayed by Congress or public criticism.
Al-Maliki was quoted by Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper as criticizing Bush for complaining about the manner of Saddam’s execution and saying that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was helping “terrorists” by noting publicly that political problems could cost al-Maliki his job.
“It seems to me that Bush has given in to domestic pressure,” al-Maliki said of Bush’s criticism this week that his government had “fumbled” the hanging of Saddam, which was marred by Shiite officials making sectarian jibes, captured on video.
“Maybe he has lost control of the situation,” the prime minister added, saying Bush was normally a strong character.
Of Rice, he was quoted as saying: “I would advise Condoleezza Rice to avoid statements that may aid terrorists.”