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Central Baghdad Bombing Kills At Least 80


The White House has issued a statement condemning the bombings in Baghdad that took place in the early hours of the morning. The attacks have claimed at least 121 lives. The death toll figure comes from Iraq's Ministry of Interior and is expected to rise. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in an online statement. NPR's Alice Fordham is following this story from Beirut, Lebanon. She joins me now. Alice, what more can you tell us about the attack? This, as I understand it, struck people who were out celebrating Ramadan, right?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Yeah, exactly. This is a neighborhood of Baghdad I've been to many times. And the thing to understand about this time of year is, of course, it's very hot in Iraq and it's Ramadan. So people are mainly fasting, sleeping during the day. And they go out at night. Even though this struck in the early hours of the morning, it's likely that this neighborhood was packed with people in sidewalk cafes watching the European soccer matches, doing their shopping for Eid next week, when it’s traditional to buy clothes for each other.

And the images of the attack were just of a street that was in a conflagration. You know, whole shops burned, a mini-bus just burned out, just destruction. So we've seen this very high death toll and also hundreds of people injured. It's likely that this neighborhood was targeted because most people who live here are Shiite Muslims and ISIS is Sunni, often target Shiites. But the people who habitually go there, it’s a mixture.

MARTIN: So what does this mean about the strength of ISIS in Iraq right now? Because a couple weeks ago, we heard how Iraqi security forces have been able to push ISIS out of Fallujah. But clearly, ISIS is strong enough to be able to pull off an attack like this.

FORDHAM: Right, exactly. It's kind of counterintuitive in a way. But one way of understanding it is if you let me take you back, actually, a couple of years to when ISIS was at their strongest in Iraq, they didn't control Baghdad, the capital. But they controlled a lot of the rest of the country. And actually, it seems then, at the time, that they were putting most of their energy into administering this territory, their so-called caliphate.

So in the last few weeks, as we have seen, Iraqi security forces and their allies have some impact on ISIS, drive them out of various cities that they had held. We've actually seen a return to these insurgent tactics, an uptick in car bombs and other insurgent attacks in Baghdad.

MARTIN: Has the Iraqi government weighed in? What's been the response to this horrific attack?

FORDHAM: Well, the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, went to visit the site of the bombing, as he usually does when there has been a big attack like this. But it was very notable that he was met with a very angry reception. There has been a bit of a surge in his popularity recently after the retaking of the city of Fallujah from ISIS. But people are just furious that their government - despite the fact that Baghdad is full of checkpoints, it's full of troops - they can't prevent a huge attack happening like this in the city.

People are expressing outrage on social media. Some people hacked to the Interior Ministry website at one point, blaming them for allowing this to happen. And Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister, has faced some quite significant challenges from people who used to be his allies. And I think that this shows that Iraq has problems with its security - this insurgence, right? - but it also has problems with its politicians 'cause they're still perceived as weak and as responsible for things like this happening.

MARTIN: NPR's Alice Fordham reporting from Beirut on the bombings in Baghdad. Thanks so much, Alice.

FORDHAM: Thank you for having me, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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