BAGHDAD – Nearly simultaneous bombs struck commuters in a predominantly Shiite area on the southeastern edge of Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least nine people and wounding about two dozen, police and hospital officials said.
The two blasts, which occurred about 30 yards apart at 7 a.m. in Jisr Diyala, were targeting government employees, construction workers and vendors preparing to travel into the capital, according to the officials.
Women and children were among the nine killed and 23 wounded, which also included three policemen who had been drinking tea bought from a vendor, the officials said.
The explosives were buried in a dirt-packed area where minibuses pick up people traveling to the nearby Baghdad neighborhood of Zafaraniyah and the center of the city. Vendors were selling pastries, juice and tea.
Mohammed Nuaman, a 36-year-old store owner who was wounded by shrapnel in the shoulder, said rescue efforts were complicated by a damaged bridge. The bridge, which spans the Diyala River, a Tigris tributary, to connect the area with Baghdad proper, was hit by two bombings in May and was still under repair.
"I heard a big explosion at the bus station area and another bomb went off about 30 seconds later, as I was heading to the area," Nuaman said, describing the burned bodies of victims in pools of blood.
"Locals rushed to the area and carried some wounded by their cars to the nearby Zafaraniyah hospital before the ambulances and police arrived about 15 minutes later," Nuaman said.
Jisr Diyala is about 10 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Hours later, mortar shells rained onto a neighborhood in Hibhib, some 30 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least five civilians and wounding 17, police said. Hibhib, a Sunni town in volatile Diyala province, was the area where Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike last year.
A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said the mortar rounds were launched from the nearby district of Hidaid and were targeting Sunnis who had turned against Al Qaeda in Hibhib.
Despite the unrelenting bombings facing Iraqis in Baghdad and elsewhere, October is on course to record the second consecutive decline in Iraqi civilian deaths. The current pace of civilian deaths would put October's toll at fewer than 900. The figure was 1,023 for last month and 1,956 for August, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.
The AP tally is compiled from hospital, police and military officials, as well as accounts from reporters and photographers. Insurgent deaths are not included. Other counts differ and some have given higher civilian death tolls.
U.S. and Iraqi military commanders said an eight-month-old security crackdown had succeeded in sharply reducing the violence.
Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, the Iraqi in charge of the operation, said overall terrorist acts in Baghdad had decreased by 59 percent and the number of Iraqi casualties by 77 percent since the crackdown began in mid-February.
He also announced that car bombs in the capital were down by 65 percent and the number of people killed in bombings was down by 81 percent.
"All sectors in Baghdad have witnessed a decrease in terrorist activities," Qanbar said. "This has brought life to normal in many parts of Baghdad."
The U.S. second-in-command also expressed optimism, saying attack levels in Baghdad were on a "steady downward trend" and were now at the lowest level since January 2006.
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno also said he expected the U.S. military to make steady progress in the next 12 months in turning over large portions of Baghdad to Iraqi security forces.
"I think it'll be somewhere between 40 and 50 percent by the end of the year," he said at a joint news conference
Elsewhere, a spokesman for one of Iraq's most prominent Sunni politicians accused Iraqi soldiers of opening fire on his office in western Baghdad, wounding three people.
The alleged attack on the office of Adnan al-Dulaimi, the leader of the largest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, the Iraqi Accordance Front, occurred Tuesday evening in the Sunni-dominated Adil neighborhood, according to a statement. The wounded were al-Dulaimi's spokesman, who confirmed the attack but declined to be identified for security reasons, and two guards.
Al-Dulaimi was not in his office at the time, and the Iraqi defense ministry had no immediate information.
On Oct. 18, gunmen in two cars killed al-Dulaimi's adviser as he left a bus station after dropping off relatives.
The violence came as Sunnis denounced a U.S. helicopter raid Tuesday in which the military said 11 Iraqis, including five women and one child, were killed along with a known insurgent when U.S. helicopters fired at men spotted placing roadside bombs in a volatile Sunni area north of Baghdad.
Neighbors and relatives of victims said 14 civilians were killed. They prayed and wept over the bodies, which were wrapped in colorful blankets for burial in the desert north of Samarra.
It was the third claim of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in as many days, raids that have prompted complaints from both sides of the sectarian divide that too many Iraqis are losing their lives, particularly as the Americans increasingly rely on air power to attack militants.
Odierno said U.S. forces take all possible measures to prevent civilian casualties and will try to improve the intelligence used in conducting such operations to avoid killing or wounding innocent Iraqis.
"What we want to do is we want to use the best intelligence possible to grab these individuals who are hiding behind citizens," he said.
The hard-line Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars said the raid struck families who were celebrating the release of one of their sons from U.S. custody.
The group "condemned the brutal crime that shows the savageness and brutality of the occupation in targeting disarmed civilians" and placed blame on the Shiite-led government and the U.S. military.
The other two raids Sunday and Monday targeted Shiite militia fighters in the sprawling Sadr City district in eastern Baghdad.
The U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq said in its most recent human rights report that it had recorded at least 88 Iraqi civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes from April 1 to June 30.