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Bombings mar soccer celebrations in Iraq

At least 50 killed, 135 more injured in two attacks

Residents ride a truck as they celebrate the victory of Iraq's soccer team over South Korea during the semi-final of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup soccer tournament, in Falluja, 30 miles west of Baghdad, July 25, 2007. (Reuters Photo)
Residents ride a truck as they celebrate the victory of Iraq's soccer team over South Korea during the semi-final of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup soccer tournament, in Falluja, 30 miles west of Baghdad, July 25, 2007. (Reuters Photo)

BAGHDAD -- Two suicide car bombs exploded yesterday amid throngs that poured into Baghdad's streets after the Iraqi national soccer team edged South Korea to reach its first Asian Cup final. Police said at least 50 people were killed and 135 were injured.

Celebratory gunfire after Iraq's 4-3 victory at the game in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killed at least one person and injured 17, police said. Among the wounded were two police officers and an Iraqi soldier.

A love of soccer is one of the few things that unite Iraqis across ethnic and religious lines, and violence dropped to unusually low levels as Iraqis sat transfixed through the nail-biting match, broadcast live on Iraqi television and radio.

They then streamed onto the streets, waving flags and pointing guns skyward in celebration.

But barely two hours after the gamed ended, a suicide car bomber killed at least 30 people and injured 75 near an ice cream shop in Baghdad's western Mansour neighborhood, police said.

Another bomber drove an explosives-packed car into a crowd across the river in eastern Baghdad, killing 20 people and injuring 60, police said. The second attack occurred near an Iraqi Army checkpoint in the eastern district of Ghadeer, where a mix of Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Christians live.

Both attacks bore the hallmarks of Sunni militants who have waged sectarian battles in Iraq for nearly four years. But the bombings, in parked cars less than an hour apart in separate corners of Baghdad, appeared designed to gain attention rather than target a particular sect.

Qusai Bilal, a 35-year-old Sunni grocer in Ghadeer, was watching the unusual sight of a street party outside his store. Young people danced and waved flags when tragedy struck. "A huge blast occurred and, in a second, converted the glorious scene to a black one," he said.

University student Ahmad Mudhar, a Shi'ite, and his 7-year-old brother were celebrating in Mansour, waving the Iraq flag and singing with hundreds of other revelers. After the bomber struck, the brothers walked home shaken and heartbroken.

"Even during the moments of happiness, the powers of evil and terrorism cause tragedy," Mudhar said. Iraqis, he predicted, would return to the streets in celebration "to shame the terrorists" if Iraq wins the cup.

The revelers were celebrating Iraq's semifinal win over South Korea in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Iraq will now play Saudi Arabia Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the championship.

A total of 88 people were killed or found dead nationwide yesterday, according to police, morgue, and hospital officials.

Earlier yesterday, Iraq's largest Sunni Arab bloc suspended its participation in the Shi'ite-led government, complaining that its members had been sidelined.

Leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front said they were giving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a week to meet their list of demands, or else they would quit his Cabinet for good.

The demands include a general amnesty for detainees who are not charged with specific crimes; respect for human rights, including an end to random arrests; the dismantling of private militias; inclusion of all communities in the government and security forces; and a serious effort to return those displaced by sectarian violence to their homes.

The bloc's five ministers and Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali Zubaie had been boycotting Cabinet meetings, but they now planned to stop coming to their offices, said Adnan Dulaimi, who heads the bloc.

The Accordance Front Cabinet ministers include the deputy prime minister for security as well as the ministers of planning, higher education, culture, defense, and the minister of state for women's affairs. Day-to-day operation of the government was unlikely to be disrupted because civil servants run the affected ministries.

Dulaimi said the bloc's boycott would not affect parliament, which must approve new legislation aimed at unifying the country.

The move comes at a delicate time for Maliki's government, which is under pressure to show progress on legislation aimed at reconciling Iraq's warring factions ahead of a progress report due to the US Congress in September.

Of special concern has been Maliki's inability or unwillingness to shepherd through parliament a series of laws aimed at bridging the divide among the country's minority Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and majority Shi'ite Muslims.

The Cabinet walkout nearly insures that nothing of note will happen on that front before the report is delivered.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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