A man walked up to a group of American soldiers on foot patrol in an upscale shopping district in central Baghdad on Monday and blew up the explosives-filled vest he was wearing, killing four of the soldiers and wounding three others and an Iraqi interpreter who accompanied them. A fifth soldier died later of his wounds.
It was the deadliest single attack on American soldiers in Baghdad since the height of the troop surge in the capital last summer. Nine Iraqi civilians were also injured in the blast, according to officials at Yarmuk Hospital, where the victims were taken.
Reports from Iraqi witnesses suggest that soldiers may have let down their guard because of the relative quiet of the last few months, leaving the safety of their Humvees and chatting with local people and shopkeepers.
Hours later, a car bomb exploded outside the most important hotel in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, killing two people and wounding 30 in the first significant attack in that normally placid city in several years.
The two attacks underscored how fragile security in Iraq remains despite a recent drop in violence, and statements by American military officials that Sunni insurgents are on the run.
In Baghdad, the suicide bombing, in the Mansour neighborhood, shattered a perfect spring afternoon, with shoppers out sampling hamburgers and sausage from street vendors and browsing through boutiques for the latest fashions.
The owner of a clothing store on Mansour Street said that five soldiers and an interpreter entered his shop about 3 p.m.
“The soldiers were asking about the security situation and also making jokes and laughing,” said the store owner, who refused to give his real name for fear of reprisals from local militias. “Some of them said, ‘Be sure that we’ll come back again in order to buy clothes from you before we leave on vacation.’”
After the soldiers left the store, he said, he climbed up a ladder to a storeroom to retrieve his lunch and then heard a large explosion. He scrambled back down, he said, to find the bodies of two of the soldiers he had just been chatting with lying across the doorway of the store.
Mohammed, a hamburger vendor whose stand is about 175 feet from the site of the bombing, said that the same group of eight or nine American soldiers had been coming to the street for the last three days, getting out of their Humvees and walking around the shopping area, called the Al-Rawad intersection after a popular ice cream parlor there.
“Usually, we see the Americans come in Humvees and they don’t stop, they just keep driving,” said the vendor, who was afraid to give his last name. On Monday, he said, a soldier carrying a notebook walked into a currency exchange called The Ship. The other soldiers gathered in a small group.
“When the explosion happened we panicked and started running, and the gunner on one of the Humvees started shooting,” Mohammed said.