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Ramazan rung in with a bomb

Baghdad, Sept. 23 (Reuters): A bomb today killed 34 people in Baghdad’s Sadr City Shia slum as Iraq’s minority Sunnis began the fasting month of Ramazan, which US commanders said might see a rise in sectarian bloodshed.

The bomb — most likely a car bomb, according to police — struck near a tanker distributing kerosene for stoves in Sadr City, whose poor residents are the power base of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia.

In addition to the 34 people killed, 35 were injured, many badly burned.

Sunni militants claimed responsibility, declaring the attack revenge for killings by Shia militia.

“This operation comes in reaction to the crimes of the Mehdi Army against our Sunni kin in Baghdad,” the Jamaat Jund al-Sahaba — Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions — said in a claim posted on the Internet.

“Our swords can reach the depth of your areas, so stop killing unarmed Sunnis.”

US commanders had warned for weeks that they expected a surge of violence to accompany the holy month, having observed similar patterns in previous years.

The Americans say they are determined to bring an end to sectarian killings in Baghdad, which have soared since an attack on a Shia shrine in Samarra in February. They have put in place a system of checkpoints and some fortifications around its perimeter.

In a six-week-old security crackdown in the capital, a division of 15,000 American soldiers has secured scattered neighbourhoods and is due to move into more. They say killings are fewer in the zones they have targeted.

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