ISIS-claimed Baghdad blast death toll surges
Refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up in Baghdad’s central district of Karrada, killing 200 people
The White House on Sunday condemned bombings in Baghdad that killed nearly 200 people, saying the attack only strengthened the United States’ resolve to confront ISIS 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 ISIS.
A refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up in Baghdad’s central district of Karrada, killing 200 people and injuring at least 200 more. In a second attack, a roadside device exploded around midnight in a market in al-Shaab, a Shiite district, killing at least two people, police and medical sources said.
The bombings demonstrated the extremists’ ability to mount significant attacks despite major battlefield losses, including the city of Fallujah, which was declared “fully liberated” from ISIS just over a week ago.
In the deadliest attack, a car bomb hit Karada, a busy shopping district in the center of Baghdad, killing 86 people and wounding 170, according to police and hospital officials. It struck as families and young people were out on the streets after breaking their daylight fast for the holy month of Ramadan.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement posted online, saying they had deliberately targeted Shiite Muslims. The statement could not be independently verified.
At dawn Sunday, fire fighters were still working to extinguish the blazes and bodies were still being recovered from charred buildings. Many of the dead were children, according to Associated Press reporters at the scene.
Ambulances could be heard rushing to the site for hours after the blast. An eyewitness said the explosion caused fires at nearby clothing and cellphone shops.
Hours after the bombing, Iraq's prime minister visited the blast site. Video footage uploaded to social media showed an angry crowd, with people calling Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi a "thief" and shouting at his convoy.
In the second attack, an improvised explosive device went off in eastern Baghdad, killing 5 people and wounding 16. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The casualty figures were confirmed by police and hospital officials, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to release information to the press.
The Baghdad attacks come just over a week after Iraqi forces declared the city of Fallujah "fully liberated" from ISIS. Over the past year, Iraqi forces have racked up territorial gains against ISIS, retaking the city of Ramadi and the towns of Hit and Rutba, all in Iraq's vast Anbar province west of Baghdad.
Despite the government's battlefield victories, ISIS has repeatedly shown it remains capable of launching attacks far from the front-lines.
Before the launch of the operation to retake Fallujah, Iraq's prime minister was facing growing social unrest and anti-government protests in Baghdad sparked in part by popular anger at the lack of security in the capital. In one month, Baghdad's highly-fortified Green Zone - which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions - was stormed twice by anti-government protesters.
ISIS still controls Iraq's second largest city of Mosul as well as significant patches of territory in the country's north and west.
At the height of the extremist group's power in 2014, ISIS rendered nearly a third of the country out of government control. Now, the militants are estimated to control only 14 percent of Iraqi territory, according to the office of Iraq's prime minister.
(With Reuters, AP)