Blast at university in Baghdad kills 65


Firemen stand at the site of blasts outside Al-Mustansriya university in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday Jan. 16, 2007. Two minivans exploded near a university as students were leaving after classes Tuesday in a predominantly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 16, 2007 at 11:07 p.m.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — An explosion outside a Baghdad university as students were heading home for the day killed at least 65 people on Tuesday in the deadliest of several attacks on predominantly Shiite areas. The attacks — and the announcement of four U.S. military deaths — came on a day the United Nations said more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians died last year in sectarian violence.

Attacks in Baghdad — including the university explosion, blasts at a marketplace for used motorcycles and a drive-by shooting — killed more than 100 people in a spasm of violence ahead of a promised drive by the Iraqi government and U.S. forces to secure the capital.

On Monday, the Iraqi government hanged two of Saddam Hussein's henchmen in an execution that left many of the ousted leader's fellow Sunni Muslims seething after one of the accused, the ousted leader's half brother, was decapitated on the gallows.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Tuesday's violence was the work of those seeking revenge for the executions, calling those responsible "a desperate group of terrorists and Saddamists."

The military said four U.S. soldiers with Task Force Lightning were killed Monday in the northwestern province of Ninevah, home to the city of Mosul, which has seen an increase in violence. The deaths raised to at least 3,026 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In Baghdad, the deadliest attacks took place in primarily Shiite neighborhoods and appeared to be the work of Sunnis, who largely make up the insurgency targeting the Iraqi government and U.S. forces.

Raad Abbas, a 26-year-old wounded in the attack at the motorcycle market that killed 13, said he went to the market because the city had been quieter over the past two weeks.

"Shortly after midday, I heard an explosion. Motorcycles were flying in the air, people were falling dead and wounded," he said from his hospital bed.

As the curious gathered to look at the aftermath of the first explosion — a bomb attached to a motorcycle — a suicide car bomber drove into the crowd and blew up his vehicle. The attack appeared to target the mainly Shiite neighborhood near the market but also was near the Sheik al-Gailani shrine, one of the holiest Sunni locations in the capital.

The bombing near Al-Mustansiriya University took place as students were boarding minivans waiting outside the building to take them home, police said. Some police said the explosion was caused by a suicide car bomber and others said two of the minivans blew up as students were boarding.

Taqi al-Moussawi, dean of the university — one of Iraq's most prestigious — told state-run al-Iraqiya TV there were two explosions.

He said a suicide attacker was later discovered with the apparent aim of targeting students as they fled but the attacker's explosives belt was detonated before students got close to him. He also said the students belonged to all religions, sects and ethnic groups.

"The terrorists want to stop education. ... those students had nothing to do with politics. They only came to the university to learn," he said.

About 45 minutes after the university attack, gunmen in a minivan and on two motorcycles opened fire on an outdoor market in a mainly Shiite neighborhood in nearby section of eastern Baghdad, police said. At least 11 people were killed.

Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq in Baghdad, said 34,452 civilians were killed — an average of 94 per day — and 36,685 were wounded last year in sectarian violence.

The Iraqi Health Ministry did not comment on the U.N. report, which was based on information released by the Iraqi government and hospitals. The government has disputed previous figures released by the U.N. as "inaccurate and exaggerated."

Iraqi government figures announced in early January put last year's civilian death toll at 12,357. Magazzeni said the U.N. figures were compiled from information obtained through the Iraqi Health Ministry, hospitals across the country and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad.

According to the U.N. report women were particularly vulnerable to violence, but it said an accurate female mortality rate was difficult to obtain because female corpses are usually abandoned at the morgue because of fears the family's honor would be damaged. More than 140 of the bodies were unclaimed and buried in Najaf in November and December alone, according to the report.

Bodies of victims of sectarian violence often go unclaimed at the morgue due to security concerns or because the family cannot find them. Agreements are in place to allow unidentified remains to be buried in the Shiite holy city.

The U.N. report also said that 30,842 people were detained in the country as of Dec. 31, including 14,534 in detention facilities run by U.S.-led multinational forces.

It pointed to killings targeting police, who are seen by insurgents as collaborating with the U.S. effort in Iraq. The report said the Interior Ministry had reported on Dec. 24 that 12,000 police officers had been killed since the war started in 2003.

The report also painted a grim picture for other sectors of Iraqi society, saying the violence has disrupted education by forcing schools and universities to close as well as sending professionals fleeing from the country. At least 470,094 people throughout Iraq have been forced to leave their homes since the bombing in Samarra, according to the report.

In Monday's execution, a thickset Barzan Ibrahim plunged through the trap door and was beheaded by the jerk of the thick rope at the end of his fall, in the same execution chamber where Saddam was hanged a little over two weeks earlier.

Dozens of people, mostly schoolchildren, read Quranic verses at the graves near Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, as mourning continued for Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court under Saddam.

Some 150 youths also staged a demonstration, chanting "down with the pro-Iranian government" and "glory to Barzan," and hundreds later assembled for a memorial service, but it was calmer than the day before when at least 3,000 angry Sunnis assembled for the burials in nearby Ouja.

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