Baghdad, Nov 23: A bomb hidden in a box containing birds killed 13 people and wounded 57 at a popular pet market in central Baghdad today, Iraqi police said. Police said four policemen were among the wounded in the bombing at the crowded Ghazil pet market.
It was one of the deadliest attacks in the Iraqi capital in weeks and could dent new-found confidence among Iraqis that security in the capital is getting better.
Levels of violence have been falling across Iraq in the past two months, with the US military saying attacks were down by 55 per cent since a ''surge'' of 30,000 extra US troops became fully deployed in mid-June.
Something approaching normal life has been starting to return to Baghdad with the lull in bloodshed. Thousands of Iraqis have also been returning home after fleeing the violence.
Ordinary Iraqis have been going to markets and to restaurants at night, both unheard of at the height of the violence after the bombing of a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 unleashed waves of sectarian killings.
The pet market, a popular weekend spectacle, sells a raucous, colourful range of creatures from guard dogs and monkeys to parrots, pigeons and tropical fish. It has been targeted several times in the past. Seven people were killed there in a blast in January, a month after three people were killed in another attack.
The US troop surge has targeted Shi'ite militias and al Qaeda fighters who are blamed for most large-scale bombings in Iraq. U.S. commanders however caution that overall levels of violence in Iraq remain too high.
Yesterday, 10 mortar bombs landed in Baghdad's Green Zone, the heavily fortified central Baghdad compound which houses the US embassy and the Iraqi parliament, in an attack coinciding with the US Thanksgiving holiday.
Mortar and rocket attacks were almost a daily occurrence earlier this year but had fallen off sharply and Thursday's was the worst in weeks. Police said there were casualties but had no further details.
The growing use of neighbourhood police units, organised by mainly Sunni Arab tribal sheikhs, has also been credited for playing a part in bringing violence levels down.
But the neighbourhood police units, organised by ''Awakening Councils'' of tribal leaders, have also become targets for attacks in recent weeks.
Police said al Qaeda militants killed eight members of a neighbourhood police patrol on Thursday in Baghdad, raking them with heavy machinegun fire from a stolen Iraqi army vehicle, the Hawr Rajab area of southern Baghdad.