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Baghdad Explosion Targets Office of Militia Group Linked to Shiite Political Party - 2003-12-19

A powerful explosion in Baghdad Friday has killed one woman and wounded at least seven other people. The blast also demolished an office of a militia group linked to the country's largest Shi'ite political party.

The early morning blast collapsed more than half of the building containing the Jihad neighborhood branch of the Badr Brigade, a Shi'ite militia group allied to the country's largest political party. But the building was not just a Badr Brigade office, it was also a makeshift apartment building, housing several families who had nothing to do with the militia group.

Resident Jassim Raheem Jabbar, 23, says he was jolted awake when the ceiling collapsed on top of him. He was buried under the rubble, along with his daughter and the rest of his family, until the neighbors came to dig them out.

"I heard my mother's voice calling for help," he said. "I was thinking of air. I could not breathe. But I found an air pocket in the rubble that came down on top of us. It was awful. You cannot imagine."

Mr. Jabbar says, after the capture of Saddam, the party warned the other residents of the building that there could be some sort of terrorist attack against it. He says someone from the Badr Brigade came to his home and told the family to move out, but they refused.

Mr. Jabbar says his aunt was killed in the explosion. Several other family members were wounded, including an elderly man, who limped around the wreckage with his head bandaged, streaks of blood still staining his face. Hours after the blast, he was still disoriented and confused.

"I was asleep. I don't know, three o'clock, four o'clock. Maybe somebody came and hit us, or a thing hit us. Only God knows what happened," he said.

This is the second attack in two days targeting the country's main Shi'ite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is closely linked to the Badr Brigade. A party member was assassinated Wednesday, and Supreme Council leaders blame Saddam Hussein loyalists for the attacks. Party leaders have been vague about the dead man's exact role in the organization, saying only that he worked with them on security issues.

Before the fall of Saddam, the building bombed on Friday belonged to the ruling Ba'ath party. After Saddam fled, several families, including Mr. Jabbar's, moved in and made it their home. The Badr Brigade came later, and they put a sign out front announcing their presence.

"We told them to take the sign down, or get some guards to protect the place. But they did not listen to us," said Mr. Jabbar.

The families felt the sign was a bad idea, because the Badr Brigade Shi'ite militia is widely believed to be engaged in a low-level war with what its members call Ba'ath party loyalists and terrorists.

Many Sunni Muslim religious leaders believe the group is connected to attacks on their mosques and clerics. It has also been linked to assassinations of former Ba'ath party officials. The Badr Brigade and its affiliated political party, The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, deny those allegations. The Superme Council is the country's largest and best-organized political party. It has close ties with Iran, and represents many in Iraq's majority Shi'ite community, which was particularly repressed under Saddam Hussein.

A founding member of the Supreme Council told VOA on Thursday that at least 70 of the party's members and supporters have been assassinated since the fall of Saddam, and he blames loyalists of the former regime for the attacks.

The founder of the party and one of Iraq's most senior Shi'ite clerics, the Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, was killed in a massive car bombing in August, at a mosque in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.