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More Than 30 Dead And Dozens Wounded After Double Suicide Attack In Iraq's Capital

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Iraq now - that is where more than 30 people are dead and dozens wounded after a double suicide bombing today in Baghdad. The bomber struck a crowded market on a busy morning. From Baghdad, NPR's Alice Fordham reports the attack is all the more shocking for Iraqis because lately, they had enjoyed relative security.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: As evening falls after the attack, people gather at the site of the bombing in downtown Baghdad in a street off a main square. They murmur prayers, forming a makeshift vigil. The glow of candles falls on piles of secondhand clothes in market stalls, some now bloody. This explosion killed poor people selling old blue jeans, tea, cellphone accessories on a clear winter morning.

ABBAS ABDULKAREEM: (Non-English language spoken).

FORDHAM: It was about 10 o'clock, says fruit vendor Abbas Abdulkareem, when the explosion happened. Other witnesses say the bomber cried out he had a pain in his stomach and detonated an explosive-packed vest when people gathered to help.

ABDULKAREEM: (Non-English language spoken).

FORDHAM: People fled towards Tayaran Square, Abdulkareem says. And then police and an ambulance came, and the second explosion went off next to the ambulance.

ABDULKAREEM: (Non-English language spoken).

FORDHAM: "And it shocked us," he says, "because for some time, there have been no explosions here." The situation was safe, and people were optimistic, and the streets were open. There was a time when such attacks were horrifyingly common in Baghdad. But since ISIS was largely defeated here in 2017, big bombings have slowed to a trickle. Across the capital, blast walls and checkpoints have been removed. In a city where life is now pretty normal and lively, people seemed stunned by the attack.

HASSAN QASSEM: (Non-English language spoken).

FORDHAM: "I saw the sadness on the people's faces," says Hassan Qassem, a university student who came to pay his respects. He's tearful as he speaks.

QASSEM: (Non-English language spoken).

FORDHAM: "This is the beginning of a new year," he says, "and we wanted it to be good." But there was no joy for Iraqis. He fears the return of terrorism. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

I speak to analyst Renad Mansour with the British think tank Chatham House. He says although ISIS may have been defeated on the battlefield, that doesn't rule out a renewed insurgency.

RENAD MANSOUR: What has been missing from the conversation is why ISIS emerged in the first place and, you know, the roots of ISIS, the roots that are political based on the socioeconomic needs of a population that feels disenfranchised since 2003.

FORDHAM: He says there hasn't been a concerted effort at inclusion, a provision of services to all Iraqis.

MANSOUR: And without a political settlement that could represent large parts of the Iraqi population, it is very likely that groups like ISIS and others will continue to reemerge because conflict in Iraq has been cyclical and will continue to be cyclical.

FORDHAM: And today's blast raises questions as President Biden takes office. There are about 2,500 U.S. troops still here, and they seem likely to remain. The incoming defense secretary, General Lloyd Austin, has said he is still concerned about ISIS in Iraq and beyond and that he would support keeping troops in Iraq to help the counterterror forces here.

Alice Fordham, NPR News, Baghdad.

(SOUNDBITE OF O LAKE'S "MORNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.