Two car bombs detonated Friday morning in a central Baghdad residential neighborhood, killing at least six people and injuring 43 more near an Interior Ministry building U.S. troops found detainees who showed signs of torture, police said.
The blast in the Jadiriyah neighborhood reverberated through the city center, sent a mushroom cloud hundreds of feet into the air and was followed by sporadic small arms fire. A hotel used by U.S. journalists is also near the scene, but there were no reports of foreign casualties.
Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi, from the Interior Ministry, said he believed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq was behind the bombing.
"The attacks were targeting the (Interior Ministry building) itself and we believe that the al-Zarqawi group is behind the blasts as revenge for the fact that some of al-Qaida members were inside the shelter," he said.
Associated Press Television News footage showed several residential buildings collapsed from the blast and a large crater in the road. Firefighters joined neighbors to dig through the debris and under toppled blast barriers to pull victims from the rubble.
U.S. Army engineering units were sent to the scene to help in the rescue effort, a statement from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division said. At least one family was believed buried in the rubble, al-Mohammedawi said.
"We are trying to rescue them and we hope to find them alive," he said. Police Capt. Nabil Abdel-qadir said the two car bombs were detonated behind the Interior Ministry building. six civilians were killed and three police officers were among the injured, he said.
A five-member family was rescued by firefighters after part of their house collapsed, police Maj. Raed Abbas-Salman said. The mother had serious burns because she was in the kitchen, while the father and three children suffered shrapnel wounds.
U.S. troops found up to 173 malnourished detainees, some showing signs of torture, in the building on Sunday. Most were believed to be Sunni Arabs, the main group in the insurgency.
A leader of a major Sunni party, Tariq al-Hashimi, told Iraq's Sharqiyah television on Thursday that his group had submitted 50 complaints of prisoner abuse to the government "but we did not receive a timely response."
However, Interior Minister Bayn Jabr, a Shiite, brushed aside the complaints, denied sectarian bias and claimed that "every time" al-Hashimi has differences with him "he exerts pressure on me through the U.S. Embassy."
"I reject torture and I will punish those who perform torture," Jabr said. "No one was beheaded, no one was killed», a clear reference to the beheadings of foreign and Iraqi hostages by insurgents including al-Qaida's Iraq wing.
He also said "those who are supporting terrorism are making the exaggerations" about torture and that only seven detainees showed signs of abuse.
In a statement Thursday, the U.S. Embassy said Iraqi authorities had given assurances that they will investigate the conditions of detainees found Sunday night and that the abuse of prisoners "will not be tolerated by either the Iraqi government" or U.S.-led forces anywhere in the country.
"We have made clear to the Iraqi government that there must not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi security forces, facilities or ministries," the U.S. statement added.
Prominent Sunni Arabs have complained for months about abuse by Interior Ministry forces, whom they claim have been infiltrated by Shiite militias. The Sunnis called for an international investigation after the Jadriyah detainees were found. The government denies the militia allegations.
Last May, however, officials confirmed that a Shiite militia affiliated with Jabr's party helped capture five men wanted in a fatal car bombing in east Baghdad. Another Shiite militia took part in a joint raid with police last month southeast of the capital in which about 20 people were killed.
The U.S. statement seemed designed to reassure the Sunni Arab minority that the Americans are keen to defend their interests at a time when Washington is encouraging a big Sunni Arab turnout in the Dec. 15 election, hoping that will help take the steam out of the insurgency, reports the AP. I.L.