IRAQ BAGHDAD CAR BOMB TERROR.jpg
Photograph: EPA/ALI ABBAS

The Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, is only a few days away.

But this year, for many residents of Baghdad, it will be a time for mourning rather than celebration.

In the city's Karada district, where a massive bomb blast killed at least 213 people in the early hours of Sunday morning, tents are being erected for families of the victims who are receiving those offering condolences.

The attack, claimed by the Islamic State Sunni extremist group, was the deadliest in years in a city that is used to murderous attacks.

Targeting Baghdad's most upmarket shopping district, the bombers knew exactly when to strike: the last few days of Ramadan are a busy shopping time as people buy presents and new clothes ahead of the holiday.

The early hours of the morning see the biggest crowds, before the daytime fasting begins and while temperatures are still cooler than the 48 degrees often reached by the Iraqi capital during the day.

Some of the mourners have lost as many as three or four sons and daughters.

As the bereaved families set up tents or hire mosque halls around the city, rescue workers are still trying to find the remains of other victims.

About 100 people are thought to be still missing, and hospitals are keeping dozens of unidentified bodies and body parts, while families crowd at the gates, desperate for news of their loved ones.

Social media sites are flooded with pictures of the missing and appeals for information on their fate.

The area around the blast site has been cordoned off as rescue teams search the charred ruins of an estimated 250 shops, clinics and apartments destroyed in the flames started by the car bomb blast.

They are struggling with smoke, fumes and some remaining fires. Dozens of vehicles also burnt out after the attack, including minibuses where the flames consumed the bodies of the passengers.

One of those waiting near the scene for the results of the search operation is 56-year-old Abu Muntazir.

"I lost one of my sons in the explosion and I'm still looking for him in the hospitals and at the scene of the explosion without any success," he explains.

He is resigned to the likelihood that his son is dead. "I want to find his body so I can bury him."

Charred bodies and severed limbs are still being found on the scene, a rescue official, who asked not to be named, told dpa.

Along with the desolation of the bereaved, a sense of anger towards the authorities is palpable.

"What happened in Karada won't be the last attack and it won't be the worst," says 37-year-old Khalida Ahmed, a civil servant.

"The security system has proven that it's corrupt and a failure," she adds.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced immediate measures to step up security in the aftermath of the attack.

On Sunday, he ordered security forces to immediately stop using fake bomb detectors which were supplied to Iraq over several years by James McCormick, a British businessman.

Yet that decision itself points to how dysfunctional Iraqi security measures can be.

It is now three years since a British court jailed McCormick after hearing that the detectors - based on a novelty golf ball finder - had no scientific basis.

But, at least until yesterday, they remained in widespread use at the checkpoints that are supposed to secure the city against Islamic State's frequent attacks.

Near the scene of the blast, 25-year-old Ahmed Saaidi is not optimistic, arguing that security issues are hostage to the country's feuding political forces.

"Security in Baghdad is being led by the political movements and major parties who are working against the security forces in various ways, so that their own militias can gain control of the streets," Saaidi says.

"And," he adds, "the Iraqi government is still working to a backward security plan that isn't based on any sound intelligence work."

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