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Female suicide bombers shatter Baghdad calm

Suicide vests, not car bombs, are latest shift in Al Qaeda tactics in Iraq, says US general.

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The Iraqi government-funded television station, Al-Iraqiya, reported only briefly on the attacks. It quoted the spokesman for the Baghdad security operations, Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, as saying that the women were both mentally unstable and thereby not fully aware of what they were doing. He said they had been wired with explosives that were detonated remotely.

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There was no immediate comment by the US military but Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, the incoming commander of US-led multinational forces in Baghdad, warned against precisely this type of event in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday. He expected that Al Qaeda-linked militants would try regaining the initiative by using high-profile and complex attacks.

"We did a magnificent job of creating safe neighborhoods and safe markets…we put up Texas T-wall barriers in order to protect the people so that they can live…trade and run their markets," General Hammond said.

"I think Al Qaeda has discovered that because a great job as been done, they just cannot drive their VBIEDs [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devises] like they used to…we see an adjustment that is the suicide vest attack."

In fact, most of the bazaars in and around the Baghdad neighborhood of Shorja have been ringed for months now with tall concrete walls to safeguard against the threat of car bombs, which were common in the area in the past. The use of women, who are treated with great deference in a conservative and tribal society such as Iraq, to carry out attacks is an effective way of evading detection.

Qusay Ali, a resident of Baghdad's staunchly Shiite slum of Sadr City, was a regular at the Ghazil market but stopped going after the November attack. He blames Sunni extremists for the attacks because he says it's common knowledge that most of the vendors and customers at these markets are Shiite and are mostly from Sadr City.

Mr. Ali says, like many in Sadr City, he is an avid pigeon keeper and going to markets like Ghazil and other pet markets in the city is an opportunity for aficionados to meet and buy and sell birds.

"There are many young kids in Sadr City that are into this hobby. Few Sunnis are into it," he says.

He predicts another cycle of revenge killings among Sunnis and Shiites as a result of this latest attack.

Friday's attacks in Baghdad came just three weeks before the second anniversary of the destruction of a revered Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. That bombing unleashed an unprecedented wave of sectarian violence, and is frequently cited as the onset of a "civil war" in Iraq.