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Terrorism

Iraqis unite in mourning for al-Karrada dead

By Alaa Hussain in Baghdad

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Baghdad residents gather at the scene of the deadly July 3rd blast in al-Karrada to hang banners in memory of their loved ones. [Alaa Hussein/Mawtani]

Iraqis of all faiths and ethnic groups have been united in expressing solidarity with the families of the 292 victims of the devastating July 3rd suicide bombing in Baghdad's al-Karrada district.

The attack, claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), occurred when the bomber detonated a minibus packed with explosives near a crowded shopping centre on al-Karrada al-Sharqiya Street.

The blast went off between two high-rise buildings, compounding the impact and force of the explosion, security expert Abdel Karim Khalaf told Mawtani.

The incident, which has been described as one of the deadliest single attacks in Iraq in more than a decade, killed 292 civilians and wounded more than 200, mostly young people, said Health Ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Rudaini.

In a Thursday (July 7th) statement, Health Minister Adila Hamoud said the identities of 177 people killed in the bombing have yet to be determined, while 115 of the victims' bodies have been handed over to their families.

The process of identifying the bodies is expected to take between 15 and 45 days, he said.

The Iraqi government declared three days of mourning for the victims, while President Fouad Masoum refrained from receiving well-wishers for Eid al-Fitr out of respect for the martyrs.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abbadi offered his condolences to the families of the victims and vowed to punish the "terrorist gangs" responsible.

Al-Abbadi also issued a series of orders to consolidate security in the capital, which include speeding up the completion of the Baghdad security belt.

An investigation is under way and has made considerable progress, Baghdad operations commander Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir al-Shamari told Mawtani.

The vehicle's ownership has been traced, he said, and security camera footage shows the attacker had tried to enter al-Karrada earlier but could not do so as it was closed off, so he drove around until the road was opened after midnight.

Iraqis unite

Meanwhile, Iraqis of all stripes from across the country came together to express their grief and denounce the crime and those behind it.

Sunni Endowments Office head Sheikh Abdul Latif al-Hamim issued a statement condemning the attack, saying it was evidence of ISIL's "defeat and losses in the battlefronts".

The Shia Endowments Office also issued a statement condemning the attack.

Individual visitors and delegations of clerics from various faiths have been visiting the site of the blast to express solidarity and pray for the dead.

These have included delegations of Christian clerics, representatives from Iraq's Yazidi minority and Sunni and Shia imams, while the Sabean-Mandaeans refrained from commemorating their holiday in the aftermath of the attack.

Tribal delegations and trade union representatives also visited the site, while hundreds of visitors lit candles on the street or in the damaged buildings.

Further afield, dozens of young people in Ramadi lit candles in their city, recently liberated from ISIL, to show sorrow for the victims.

In the south of the country, activists in al-Nassiriya held a popular demonstration in memory of the victims, while people came together to take part in similar gatherings in other parts of the country.

Others took to social media to share photographs of the victims and video clips of the explosion and its aftermath, denouncing the attack and ISIL's acts of terrorism.

Survivors describe attack

Local Iraqi television stations were flooded with accounts from survivors.

"I was trapped with 10 others in a storeroom on the upper floor of the mall and the doors and windows were locked, with fire consuming everything," said a teenage boy who survived the attack, his burnt hands wrapped in gauze.

"There was smoke and a black death, and I heard children screaming until they perished and men scream until death came," he said.

He wept as he spoke about his friends who had died in the blast.

"Who do you want me to tell you about?" he said. "Fahd, who we collected money for so he could get married after the holiday? Or shy old Hassan, whom you barely heard any sound from all day? Or Hamoudi, who intended to get engaged on the third day of the holiday?"

Eight-year-old Musa was also among the wounded, suffering from fractures in his leg and hand and facial burns.

Musa does not know that he lost his mother, father, sister, and aunt in the explosion, his aunt said, adding that their bodies have not yet been identified.

"We are busy with his wounds just as much as we are busy with hiding the truth about his family from him," she said.

Families grieve

While the survivors nurse their wounds and mourn the dead, others are facing the deep grief that comes with the loss of a family member.

Just minutes after Umm Ahmed's last phone call with her three sons, who ran a cosmetics shop in al-Karrada, breaking news flashed on the television about a blast near al-Laith mall where they worked.

"Our hearts started to miss beats quickly after the mother called her children back to make sure they were safe, but all of their mobile phones were turned off," said their uncle, Iraqi journalist Flaih al-Jawwari.

"We did not know at the time that their mobile phones had been fused into their beautiful bodies in a most horrible terrorist bombing," he told Mawtani.

Ahmed, Mahmoud and Mohammed were all killed in the blast, he said.

"We found their mutilated bodies and could only identify 30-year-old Mahmoud by his watch and 28-year-old Ahmed by a necklace," he said, while the body of 32-year-old Mohammed has yet to be identified.

Speaking from the funeral, al-Jawwari could barely utter the words to describe the state their mother was in.

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