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Iraq Bombing Meant To Rattle Authorities As U.S. Pulls Out

Baghdad's Sadr City is a large Shi'ite neighborhood.
A major bomb blast in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, has killed at least 69 people and injured more than a hundred others.

The blast at the Mraidi market came in the early evening, just when people were leaving their homes after the heat of the day. Obviously designed to maximize casualties, the explosion ripped through market stalls and shoppers alike.

"A wooden cart came from here and parked among people, and they were unaware of it," a witness of the June 24 bombing in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood told Reuters.

"Then, a blast took place and fire broke out with flames higher than the buildings. Bodies were thrown, and pieces of flesh showered the people. Why does this city suffer more than others?"

No one has claimed responsibility for the outrage, but authorities believe it was the work of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

It's the latest in a string of such terror attacks this past week. On June 20, a suicide truck bomber killed 82 people at a mosque in the northern city of Kirkuk. Then on June 22, a total of six explosions around Iraq claimed 27 lives.

U.S. Pullout

U.S. military officials have said they expected insurgents to increase their activity as U.S. forces redeployed outside the cities, leaving security in the hands of Iraqis. Intelligence officials say the activity is meant to unsettle the Iraqi authorities and provoke new sectarian strife between Shi'a and Sunnis.

But the officials say the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama considers the risk of a collapse of security too small to delay the staged withdrawal of U.S. forces.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at a news briefing in Washington that the schedule will be met. "We are going to keep our deadline of June 30, as the agreement states, with Iraq," he said.

On that date, the troops are retiring to bases outside the big cities, from which they may be called out by Iraqi forces in need of support. The last U.S. soldiers are due to leave Iraq by 2011.

The U.S. confidence that the insurgents will not gain the upper hand is based partly on the perceived decline in the strength of Al-Qaeda in the past year.

Reuters has reported that officials estimate that the number of foreign fighters coming across Iraq's borders had dropped from hundreds to "tens," and the membership of the terror organization has plunged from thousands at its peak in 2006-07 to hundreds now.

Gibbs said the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq believes this is the time to move forward.

"I think General [Ray] Odierno has mentioned that we have seen violence greatly decrease even in the past many months from what it was, and he feels confident in moving forward," Gibbs said.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in a statement that the "cowardly act" of bombing the market would not shake the determination of Iraqis to take over security responsibilities.