By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- At least 19 people were killed today (Tuesday, July 31) in two car bomb explosions in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, according to officials, as reported by the BBC, and windows in a church bus carrying children were blown out in one of the explosions, according to a church official.
At least five policemen were killed in the Baghdad bomb blasts, which narrowly missed killing a busload of children (Photo via BBC website).
The blasts happened within minutes of each other in the central Shia district of Karrada in the middle of the afternoon rush hour, the BBC said on its website.
The first bomb exploded outside a restaurant and a bakery in al-Andalus Square, and the second outside a court opposite a major police headquarters the BBC reported.
More than 240 people have been killed this month in militant attacks in Iraq.
The BBC report states that many of the cars at the scene of the blast were almost completely burned out. A small Iranian-made yellow taxi burned so intensely that the seats, dashboard and steering wheel had all melted, and its interior was reduced to a thin metal skeleton.
The BBC said: “In-between the heaps of mangled steel on the floor lay a dust-coated teddy bear, probably from the building that was hit by the blast. A fragile, horizontal structure at the intersection of al-Andalus Square, it now seemed on the verge of collapse. All the glass was shattered, and the restaurant and bakery on the ground floor were badly damaged.”
Higher up, residents stood on their balconies sweeping away the broken glass, and staring down at the destruction with peculiar apathy, the BBC said.
The report went on to say that Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaeda appear to have been behind most of the violence, including a wave of bombings and shootings in Baghdad and towns to the north on July 23 which left at least 107 dead.
Clouds of black smoke rose above the center of the capital on Tuesday after the latest bombings, which also injured more than 50 people, the BBC said.
"We were in a patrol when we heard the first explosion. The second explosion hit another square, and we went to help," Ahmed Hassan, a policeman, told the Reuters news agency.
"There was a minibus with six dead passengers inside it," he said.
At least five policemen were also among those killed, officials said.
An interior ministry official told the AFP news agency that the first attack had been carried out by a suicide bomber, while the local TV news channel al-Sharqiya said they had both been suicide bombings.
Canon Andrew White, the popular ‘Vicar of Baghdad,’ who serves at St. George’s Church in Baghdad, told how the explosions affected kids from the church’s children’s ministry who were in transit from the church after practicing for their first Holy Communion service.
“We are used to bad days, but today it has been in a different league. Central to our work and ministry here are our children. One of the biggest services of the year is when some of our children have their First Communion. This service is held at the end of August. The children prepare everyday with about two hours of sessions. They all come to church in our bus and are then taken home,” Canon White wrote on his Facebook page.
“As they were on their way home today they were caught up in a major bomb. The bus was not too badly damaged, and it continued it journey. All of children started singing the Lord’s Prayer.
As they were in the midst of their prayer, a huge bomb exploded. All the glass of the windows shattered, people fell to the floor injured, and one of the teachers was in a very bad way. They were all taken to hospital, but were all discharged as none of them had life threatening illnesses,” he wrote.
“In a normal country there is no way that some of the teachers would have been discharged. One person was hardly breathing and in profound shock. She was brought to the church and I looked after her until she was more stable. Only then could I leave to visit all the children.
“It was wonderful seeing all the children. Despite their injuries they were all smiling, their parents were not -- some were in floods of tears on learning what happened. The fact is that today was miraculous. When you see the state of the bus it is simply a major miracle that nobody died or was more seriously injured. The children knew quite clearly why, they just kept telling me that they were alright because they were praying and G-d was with them, and He was.”
Canon White said: “Many tears were shed, and there are huge things still to do and there are people who still need treatment.
“Please pray for us as we try and recover from another trauma.”