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Iraqi prime minister orders fake bomb detectors off streets after attack kills 150 people

The number of victims rose as bodies were recovered from the rubble in the Karrada area of Baghdad, where a refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up on Saturday night.

by VICE News and Reuters
Jul 4 2016, 2:00pm

Iraquíes rezan junto a los ataúdes de las víctimas de un ataque suicida con coche bomba en Bagdad en Nayaf, sur de Irak, el 3 de julio de 2016. Imagen por Abbas Khider/EPA

The death toll from a suicide bombing in a Baghdad shopping district has risen to over 150, fueling calls for security forces to crack down on Islamic State sleeper cells blamed for one of the worst ever single bombings in Iraq and prompting the prime minister to implement new security measures.

Numbers rose as bodies were recovered from the rubble in the Karrada area of Baghdad, where a refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up on Saturday night when people were out celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.

The toll in Karrada stood at 151 killed and 200 wounded by midday on Monday, according to police and medical sources. Rescuers and families were still looking for 35 missing people.

Islamic State claimed the attack, saying it was a suicide bombing. Another explosion struck in the same night, when a roadside bomb blew up in popular market of al-Shaab, a Shiite district in north Baghdad, killing two people.

The attacks cast a shadow over victory statements made last month by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's government, after Iraqi forces dislodged Islamic State from Fallujah, the stronghold of the ultra-hardline Sunni insurgents near Baghdad.

Related: Iraqi general declares victory over the Islamic State in Fallujah

Government officials ordered the offensive on Fallujah in May after a series of deadly bombings in Shiite areas of Baghdad that they said originated from Fallujah, about 30 miles west of the capital.

"Abadi has to have a meeting with the heads of national security, intelligence, the interior ministry and all sides responsible for security and ask them just one question: How can we infiltrate these groups?" said Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a former police Major General who advises the Netherlands-based European Centre for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies think tank.

In a sign of public outrage at the failure of the security services, Abadi was given an angry reception on Sunday when he toured Karrada, the district where he grew up, with residents throwing stones, empty buckets and even slippers at his convoy in gestures of contempt.

He ordered new measures to protect Baghdad, starting with the withdrawal of fake bomb detectors that police have continued to use despite a scandal that broke out in 2011 about their sale to Iraq under his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki.

Reacting after the deadliest attack so far this year, Abadi also ordered a new investigation at the interior ministry into "corrupt deals" to buy ADE 651 devices developed as lost golf balls finders and sold to Iraq and other nations as hand-held bomb detectors.

A police officer earlier confirmed to Reuters that these devices, commonly known as the "magic wand," were still in use five years after the scandal about the sale to Iraq broke out.

The British businessman who sold the detectors to Iraq and other countries, James McCormick, was sentenced in 2013 in Britain to 10 years in jail for endangering lives for profit.

Watch the VICE News documentary that investigates the ADE 651 bomb detector scam:

McCormick earned more than $40 million from sales in Iraq alone, British police said at the time. His customers also included the United Nations.

Abadi ordered more reputable vehicle inspection systems too be installed at entry points into Baghdad and other provinces.

Comments on social media voiced outrage that police still used the fake bomb detectors at checkpoints despite the devastation caused by Islamic State bombings.

Karrada, a largely Shi'ite district with a small Christian community and a few Sunni mosques, was busy at the time of the blast as people were eating out and shopping late during Ramadan, which ends this week with the Eid al-Fitr festival.

Fallujah was the first Iraqi city to fall to Islamic State in January 2014. Abadi said the next target of the Iraqi forces is Mosul, the de facto capital of the militants and the largest city under their control in both Iraq and Syria.

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