Motives for Khan Bani Saad blast questioned
Iraqis suspect political rivalry behind the deadly bombing
BAGHDAD - Although Islamic State (ISIS) militants claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a busy Iraqi marketplace on the first day of a Muslim feast, analysts and residents of the district warned against quick conclusions.
The July 17th blast killed at least 120 people, including 14 children and 13 women, and wounded another 140 in Khan Bani Saad, which is mostly inhabited by Shia Muslims, according to Diyala Governor Muthana al-Tamimi.
Tamimi said the explosion brought down several buildings in Khan Bani Saad, in Diyala province, 30 kilometres north-east of Baghdad.
“The large number of casualties is due to the presence of crowds of people celebrating the first day of Eid al-Fitr,” he said, referring to the Muslim feast that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
He declined to comment on the reasons and the perpetrators of the attack, one of the deadliest since ISIS overran parts of Iraq late in 2013.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the explosion in an internet statement, saying it targeted the “rejectionists”, a term used by hard-line Sunni Muslims to describe rival Shias.
But residents said there was reason to believe that someone from the area carried out the attack. Some blamed the blast on a rivalry between the influential pro-Iranian Badr Organisation and the Mahdi Army of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — both Shia groups.
Sadr’s group sought to have its own candidate run Diyala province, specifically from Khan Bani Saad. But Tamimi, who is a member of Badr Organisation, won.
Badr, whose members are mostly in the army, police and other security departments, became widely popular last year for fiercely fighting ISIS militants across Iraq.
There were protests in Khan Bani Saad over Tamimi’s victory just three days before the blasts, residents reported.
Iraq’s army, backed by Shia militias, defeated ISIS in Diyala earlier this year, driving the group out of the province.
The Iraqi Army is now focused on the western province of Anbar, where an offensive is planned to recapture Iraq’s Sunni heartland.
Jassim Abu Hussein, an independent Shia politician who used a pseudonym for fear of retribution by militias in the area, said the perpetrators “are insiders, from this area. They wanted to undermine Tamimi on the first few days on the job.”
Witnesses said a truck laden with blocks of ice drove into the crowded marketplace. The chunks are crushed into cubes used for cold drinks in the absence of refrigeration due to continuous power cuts.
“When people gathered around the truck, there was suddenly a loud explosion with columns of black smoke rising to the sky,” said Abu Ali, an eyewitness who said he helped evacuate the wounded lying in the streets.
The panicky crowd, which included women and children “went berserk, smashing windows of cars parked in the street”, Abu Ali said.
“It was mayhem,” he said. “There was blood and corpses all over.”
Tamimi said at least 12 people were arrested for questioning on suspicion of involvement in the blast. He declined to elaborate.
Another official in the governorate said five top police officials, including Khan Bani Saad’s police chief Brigadier Jassim Saadi, were “fired” after the blast. They were questioned for lax security that made the explosion possible, he said.
The official, who insisted on anonymity saying he was not allowed to make statements to the media, said the truck driver had brought in 3 tonnes of high-grade explosives concealed under blocks of ice he was selling. “The authorities are investigating how the explosives managed to find their way into the marketplace through several security checkpoints on the way,” the official added.
A journalist and Baghdad university professor said he doubted that ISIS was behind the blast. “The easiest is to blame sectarianism for this incident” but “Daesh isn’t the culprit this time,” he said, using ISIS’s Arabic acronym.
“Cars are carefully searched on entry at six police and army road blocks on the way to Khan Bani Saad, how come this one slipped in?”