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News Wrap: Bombs rip through Shiite campaign rally in Baghdad

April 25, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
Video still by PBS NewsHour
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Bombs tore through a campaign rally in Iraq today, killing at least 31 people and wounding dozens more. The event at a Baghdad stadium was intended to introduce candidates from a militant Shiite group ahead of next week’s parliamentary elections.

A camera captured the exact moment one of the bombs went off at the complex. There was also intense gunfire from Iraqi security forces after the explosion.

Reporter Jane Arraf is in Baghdad. She was covering that rally for the NewsHour. She spoke to us a short time ago.

And a warning: Some of the images shown during this interview may be disturbing.

Jane Arraf, welcome.

How close were you? And tell us what happened.

JANE ARRAF: Well, we were at a rally, quite an important one, for new a political party, the League of the Righteous.

And it’s a very hard-line Iranian-backed party that actually has a militia attached. The main speeches had just been over, and they were doing a reenactment of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn when there was a huge explosion not very far away, with — everyone either hit the ground or started scattering.

There was absolute panic, because when car bombs go off in Baghdad, security forces immediately respond by shooting randomly in many cases. So, there was the sound of the explosion, a huge thud, gunfire all over the place. And then there was another car bomb and a suicide bomb, so, altogether, three of them.

It was absolute panic, as you might expect, in between the car bombs, the explosions, the security forces, the chaos. It was a truly terrible scene.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jane, there’s a Reuters report today that the U.S. is adding intelligence support in Iraq right now because of this kind of violence. What does all this say about the security situation right now?

JANE ARRAF: I think what that says is that the United States is understandably worried.

Intelligence was one of the big areas that Iraq suffered from after the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But, more than that, what we have got now and what we’re seeing in the run-up to these elections is groups polarized, a lot of them with militias attached, more divided than ever.

What the U.S. really is focusing on now in many ways is the fighting going on the Anbar and Fallujah. It’s virtually a civil war and it’s only 40 miles from the center of Baghdad. What that means is that the Iraqi government and their American allies fear that that could actually spread to Baghdad.

That would threaten not just Baghdad, not just the Iraqi government, but what is still a huge embassy, as well as thousands of American contractors. So they are understandably quite worried about what happens in Anbar and in other parts of the country where the violence seems to be spreading.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Jane Arraf, we are so glad you are safe. Thank you for that report.

JANE ARRAF: Thank you so much, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In South Sudan, there’s word that gunmen fired on a convoy of United Nations barges on the Nile River yesterday. Four people were wounded, including U.N. peacekeepers. The convoy was delivering food and fuel to the city of Malakal when attackers opened fire and launched rocket-propelled grenades. Both the military and rebel groups denied responsibility. The attack came days after hundreds of civilians were slaughtered in the city of Bentiu.

President Obama issued a new warning to North Korea today not to carry out a fourth nuclear test. He spoke during a visit to South Korea amid reports of new activity at the North’s nuclear site.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The United States and South Korea stand shoulder to shoulder, both in the face of the Pyongyang’s provocations and in our refusal to accept a nuclear Korea — North Korea. Threats will get North Korea nothing, other than greater isolation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: South Korean President Park said if the North does carry out another test, further international talks on its nuclear program would be pointless.

The two presidents also joined in silent prayer for victims of the South Korean ferry disaster. The number of confirmed deaths rose today to 183. Meanwhile, the South Korean government admitted some of the bodies were misidentified and even given to the wrong families. An official task force said, from now on, it will transfer remains only after there is a DNA or a fingerprint match.

The number of suicides in the U.S. military fell by more than 15 percent last year. The four armed services report that there were 289 suicides among active-duty troops in 2013. That’s down from the 343 reported one year earlier. The totals dropped in all four services, but rose in military branches not considered active duty. The Army, National Guard and Reserves rose to 152.

A lawyer for Congressman Michael Grimm said late today that the two-term Republican will face federal criminal charges. He’s been under investigation in a campaign finance case. In January, Grimm threatened to throw a TV reporter off a Capitol balcony for asking about the investigation.

Tensions in Ukraine and disappointing earnings weighed down Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 140 points to close at 16,361. The Nasdaq fell more than 72 points to close at 4,075. And the S&P 500 slid 15 to finish at 1,863. For the week, all three indexes lost a fraction of 1 percent.