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Iraq PM vows to destroy terrorism after 99 killed

Female bombers with Downs Syndrome used to hit markets

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday held a war council and warned of an imminent battle against al-Qaeda, a day after two mentally impaired women bombers killed 99 people in Baghdad.

The meeting in Mosul, the capital of northern Nineveh province, was attended by military and political leaders, including U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and Iraq's National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, the premier's office said.

"It is time to launch a decisive battle against terrorism," Maliki said, according to a statement.

"The battle that our armed forces will launch will destroy terrorism and the criminal gangs and outlaws in Nineveh."

Maliki called on all Iraqis to support the security forces "so we can get rid of terrorism and the remnants of the former (Saddam Hussein) regime who use Nineveh because of its geographical location as a base for criminal actions against the people."

On January 25, Maliki promised a "decisive battle" against al-Qaeda after dozens of people including a police chief were killed in bomb attacks in Mosul, the last urban bastion of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Mentally impaired

Maliki's statements came as the death toll from Friday's suspected al-Qaeda bombings on two popular pet markets in Baghdad has risen to 99, making it the deadliest day in the capital since last August.

In the bloodiest attack, police said a female suicide bomber killed 62 and wounded 88 at the Ghazil pet market in central Baghdad, one of the most popular meeting places in the capital and a previous target for bombers.

That came just minutes after another blast at a bird market in southern Baghdad which killed 37 and wounded 57, police said.

The U.N. and U.S. have condemned the bomb attacks that were carried out by two mentally impaired women carrying explosive belts, devastating two Baghdad pet markets and killing at least 64 people.

The women's features indicated they were suffering Down's Syndrome.

It has not yet been determined whether they had triggered the blasts themselves or the explosives had been remotely detonated.

Investigators had determined that the explosives were stuffed with iron slugs and designed to cause as much damage as possible.

The U.S. military blamed Al-Qaeda for the attacks, which occurred within 20 minutes of each other, wounding more than 200 people in total.

US, UN condemnation

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced the "absolute bankruptcy and brutality" of the movement behind the attacks but admitted the tactic posed a security challenge.

"The struggle is not over and there will be from time to time be terrible days like today," Rice said during a press conference with visiting Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

"But it certainly underscores and affirms that the decision of the Iraqi people that there is no political program here that is acceptable to a civilized society," Rice said.

"This is the most brutal and most bankrupt of movements that would do this kind of thing," she said, adding: it will make Iraqis "tougher in the fight."

Meanwhile, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "appalled" by the bomb attacks.

"These attacks, the deadliest in the city in many months, were particularly callous in targeting innocent civilians gathered at two popular pet markets," his press office said in a statement.

The bombings were the deadliest in Baghdad since August 1, when three car bombs killed more than 80 people.