BAGHDAD (AP) - Two mentally retarded women strapped with remote-control explosives—and possibly used as unwitting suicide bombers—brought carnage Friday to two pet bazaars, killing at 73 people in the deadliest day since Washington flooded the capital with extra troops last spring.
The coordinated blasts—coming 20 minutes apart in different parts of the city—appeared to reinforce U.S. claims al-Qaida in Iraq may be increasingly desperate and running short of able-bodied men willing or available for such missions.
But they also served as a reminder that Iraqi insurgents are constantly shifting their strategies in attempts to unravel recent security gains around the country. Women have been used in ever greater frequency in suicide attacks.
The twin attacks at the pet markets, however, could mark a disturbing use of unknowing agents of death.
Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, Iraq's chief military spokesman in Baghdad, said the women had Down syndrome and may not have known they were on suicide missions. He said the bombs were detonated by remote control.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the bombings prove al-Qaida is "the most brutal and bankrupt of movements" and will strengthen Iraqi resolve to reject terrorism.
The first bomb was detonated about 10:20 a.m. in the central al-Ghazl market, the home of a weekly pet bazaar with various small animals but mostly birds. At least 46 people were killed and more than 100 wounded, said police and hospital officials.
Police said the woman wearing the bomb sold cream in the mornings at the market and was known to locals as "the crazy lady."
The pet bazaar has been bombed repeatedly, but with violence declining in the capital, the market had regained popularity as a shopping district and place to stroll on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.
But on Friday, it was returned to a scene straight out of the worst days of the conflict. Firefighters scooped up debris scattered among pools of blood, clothing and pigeon carcasses.
A pigeon vendor said the market had been unusually crowded, with people taking advantage of a pleasantly crisp and clear winter day after a particularly harsh January.
"I have been going to the pet market with my friend every Friday, selling and buying pigeons," said Ali Ahmed, who was hit by shrapnel in his legs and chest. "It was nice weather today and the market was so crowded."
He said he was worried about his friend, Zaki, who disappeared after the blast about 40 yards away.
"I just remember the horrible scene of the bodies of dead and wounded people mixed with the blood of animals and birds, then I found myself lying in a hospital bed," Ali said.
About 20 minutes after the first attack, the second female suicide bomber was blown apart in a bird market in a predominantly Shiite area in southeastern Baghdad. As many as 27 people died and 67 were wounded, police and hospital officials said.
Rae Muhsin, the 21-year-old owner of a cell phone store, said he was walking toward the New Baghdad bird market when the explosion shattered the windows of nearby stores.
"I ran toward the bird market and saw charred pieces of flesh, small spots of blood and several damaged cars," Muhsin said. "I thought that we had achieved real security in Baghdad, but it turned that we were wrong."
The bombings were the latest in a series that has frayed Iraqi confidence in the permanence of recent security gains.
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