By ANDREW E. KRAMER
BAGHDAD — The American military on Wednesday blamed a Shiite militia leader for detonating a car bomb that killed 63 people in a Shiite district a day earlier, saying he had intended to set off sectarian violence against Sunnis returning to the area as security improved.
Shiite militias drove Sunni residents from the area 18 months ago, when Baghdad was gripped in a cycle of revenge killings that ultimately divided the city between the sects. Enraged residents had blamed either American soldiers, who had been nearby, or Sunni insurgents from Al Deel, the bordering Sunni district. But the United States military blamed Haydar Mehdi Khadum al-Fawadi, and identified him as a leader of the Iranian-linked Shiite fighters known as special groups.
"We believe he ordered the attack to incite Shiite violence against Sunnis," Lt. Col. Steven Stover, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, said by e-mail. He said the military had corroborated its information from more than one source. "He's an all-around bad guy."
Perhaps to quell potential sectarian vendettas, the American military sent a convoy of Humvees with loudspeakers on their roofs to the area on Wednesday. The convoy traveled slowly down one street around noon, blaring a recorded message in Arabic: “The criminal Haydar Mehdi has committed the bombing. He does not care about your life.”