Jihadis car-bomb Zionist crusader Shiite market dwellers, killing scores; Update: Iraqi jihadis planned U.S. attack

Someone sent us that front-page thumbnail this morning because they thought it looked like Adnan Hajj’s photo of Beirut. Nope, it’s Baghdad. There’s plenty of new, authentic “black smoke rising among buildings” material to be had without needing to recycle the old stuff.

Same M.O. as the university attack last week: one bomb to kill a bunch and draw a crowd, then a second bomb to kill the crowd.

Monday’s first blast, a parked car bomb, tore through stalls of vendors peddling DVDs and secondhand clothes shortly after noon in the Bab al-Sharqi market between Tayaran and Tahrir squares — one of the busiest parts of Baghdad. Seconds later, a suicide car bomber drove into the crowd.

Police estimated that each car was loaded with nearly 220 pounds of explosives.

Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili said at least 78 people were killed and 156 were wounded, making it the deadliest attack in two months. Figures provided by police and hospital officials showed that as many as 88 people were killed.

The market is mostly Shiite, as was the university. Question: with a surge coming and the Sadrists already pushing the Sunnis out of Baghdad, why antagonize Maliki and the Shiites with a string of spectacular bombings? Is this the jihadi version of “escalation” in hopes that the Saudis will be dragged in when the Shiite reprisals inevitably start? I guess that makes sense: they know they don’t have the numbers to win on their own and they know the Americans won’t be around much longer to protect them. Probably their best option at this point is to goad the Shiites into a ferocious enough backlash that the neighboring Sunni powers will intervene and the proxy war will begin in earnest.

Or, maybe they’re just deranged fundie freelancers who wanted to kill some people in black turbans. You never can tell, can you?

This is ominous, too. Apparently, the attack in Karbala this weekend that killed five U.S. troops was an ambush sprung by men … wearing American military uniforms.

Iraqi guards at checkpoints waved them through Saturday afternoon because the men wore what appeared to be legitimate U.S. military uniforms and badges, and drove cars commonly used by foreigners, the provincial governor said…

After arriving at the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, 60 miles southwest of Baghdad, the attackers detonated sound bombs, Iraqi officials said. “They wanted to create a panic situation,” said an aide to Karbala Gov. Akeel al-Khazaali, who described the events with the governor’s permission but on condition of anonymity because he fears reprisals.

The men then stormed into a room where Americans and Iraqis were making plans to ensure the safety of thousands of people expected to visit the holy city for an upcoming holiday.

“They didn’t target anyone but the American soldiers,” the governor’s aide said.

U.S. officials say their preliminary findings jibe with that account. Karbala is a Shiite holy city; military sources said on Saturday they suspect a “militia” is responsible. Assuming that means Sadrists, they might have spared the Iraqi soldiers on the assumption that only Shiite troops would be stationed in that city. It also stands to reason that Shiites would have easier access to American uniforms than Sunnis given the U.S. partnership with the Maliki government. I’ll be mighty curious to hear how they got hold of them, and to see if there are more attacks like this. It’s a shrewd way to weaken American morale while also maintaining plausible deniability, which is the newly “pacified” Sadr wants to do right now.

Captain Ed has a smart post up, meanwhile, about the Saddam Hussein memorial shrine and museum that’s coming soon to Tikrit. One fiasco begets another:

[T]he shrine exists because Maliki acceded to Saddam’s family when they demanded his body back after the execution. After the debacle of the hanging, Maliki probably couldn’t afford to commit any further provocations, but allowing the body to go back to Tikrit was a mistake. The government basically issued a license for a Saddam Hussein shrine, and that’s what the Ba’athists intend to create at the gravesite.

As I write this, John Warner is getting set to introduce a Republican moderately anti-surge resolution in the Senate. It might be calculated to help Bush by enticing the Dems to abandon their own, more strident resolutions and join his softer version instead; they’ll end up with 60+ votes that way instead of a strict party-line vote. If that’s what it’s designed to do, though, I think it’ll backfire horribly. No one’s going to read the text of these resolutions except the senators themselves; the only thing the public will note is the vote total. In which case, why not let the Dems be as strident as they want and put it through 51-49?

Or, maybe Warner just really hates the surge and is looking to tack on a few votes to the Democratic cause. You never can tell, can you?

Update: It’s a little after 3 p.m. and Warner’s making his statement on the surge. Politically, he probably has to do this. He’s up for reelection in ’08 in a state that’s trending blue and with Mark Warner lurking in the shadows. This is his way of hedging his bets on the outcome in Iraq. Same as the Dems.

Update: Not surprising, although it’ll be good for oodles of timing-questioning caterwauling from our friends on the left on the eve of the SOTU. Even if they’re not sure how, precisely, this news redounds to Bush’s advantage.

Sources tell ABC News that the plot may have involved moving between 10 and 20 suspects believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq into the United States with student visas — the same method used by the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who struck American targets on Sept. 11…

The plot was discovered six months ago, roughly the same time that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by coalition forces. Sources tell ABC News that the suspects involved in the effort to launch the U.S. attack were closely associated with Zarqawi…

The plan was uncovered in its early stages, and sources say there is no indication that the suspects made it into the United States. Officials also emphasize that there is no evidence of an imminent attack.