A bloody day in Baghdad
More than a dozen explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, killing at least 152 people and wounding 542 in a deadly series of attacks that began with a huge suicide car bombing that targeted labourers assembled to find work for the day. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility.
The bloodiest attack was the first, killing at least 88 people and wounding 227 in the heavily Shi’ite Kazimiyah neighbourhood where the day labourers had gathered shortly after dawn. The bombings continued until about 4pm.
Overnight on Wednesday, 17 men were executed in a village north of Baghdad, which put the death toll in all violence in and around the capital on Wednesday at 169, and the number continued to rise.
A senior American military official said he believes the rash of bombings was retaliation for the joint Iraqi-United States sweep through the northern city of Tal Afar in recent days to evict insurgents from their stronghold near the Syrian border.
Al-Jazeera television quoted al-Qaeda in Iraq as confirming that assessment.
As the attacks began, the senior US officer said: “I had two thoughts: one was the Constitution, two was Tal Afar. Al-Qaeda in Iraq lost basically a base area and transit point coming across the Syrian border. That will severely inhibit their operations, at least in the short term.”
The blasts coincided with Iraqi lawmakers announcing that the country’s draft Constitution is in its final form and will be sent to the United Nations for printing and distribution ahead of an October 15 national referendum. Sunni Muslims, who form up the core of the insurgency, have vowed to defeat the basic law.
‘Barbaric and gruesome’
Wednesday’s carnage was believed to be the second worst since the US-led invasion in March 2003. A year later, on March 2 2004, coordinated blasts from suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives hit Shi’ite Muslim shrines in Karbala and in Baghdad, killing at least 181 and wounding 573.
The bomb that hit as labourers gathered in Kazimiyah was the single deadliest in the country since February 28, when a suicide car bomber targeted Shi’ite police and National Guard recruits, killing 125 people in Hillah, 85km south of Baghdad.
At Baghdad’s Kazimiyah hospital, dozens of wounded men lay on stretchers and gurneys, their bandages and clothes soaked in blood.
One older man in a traditional Arab gown and chequered head scarf sat in a plastic chair, his blood-soaked underwear exposed, with a trail of dried blood snaking down his legs.
Dr Qays Abdel-Wahab al-Bustani said the hospital had received 75 wounded people and 47 others who were killed in the explosion. Al-Bustani said the wounded were in stable condition.
In Kazimiyah’s Oruba Square, twisted hulks of vehicles blocked the main street after the suicide attacker drove a small van into the midst of the assembling labourers.
Politicians denounced the attack, with Husein al-Shahristani, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, calling it “barbaric and gruesome”.
Gunmen wearing military uniforms, meanwhile, surrounded a Sunni village 15km north of Baghdad in the pre-dawn darkness and executed 17 men, police said.
Taji police Lieutenant Waleed al-Hayali said the gunmen had detained the victims after searching the village. They were handcuffed, blindfolded and shot. The dead included one police officer and others who worked as drivers and construction workers for the US military, said al-Hayali.
US forces targeted
The violence, however, was concentrated in and around the capital. US forces were the targets of at least three of the attacks. In the most serious, an American military convoy was hit by a car bomb in eastern Baghdad, wounding two US soldiers, the military said in a statement.
Hours later, in the northern district of Azimiyah, gunmen opened fire on a police car, killing two top police officials and two officers. Three Iraqi soldiers and four police officers died when a suicide car bomber struck as rescuers arrived to help, said police Captain Nabil Abdul Kadir.
Another car bomb exploded alongside an Iraqi National Guard convoy in the northern Baghdad district of Shula, killing at least two people, authorities said.
In central Baghdad, just a few hundred metres outside the northern border of the heavily fortified Green Zone, a suicide car bomber attacked a US convoy, police said.
An exchange of heavy machine-gun fire rattled for about 10 minutes after that blast, which injured 14 Iraqi police officers and sent columns of black smoke billowing over the city. It was not clear if there were any US casualties.
The deadly car bombing in the Kazimiyah district was the second tragedy there this month. On August 31, about 950 people were killed during a bridge stampede as tens of thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims headed to a nearby shrine.
Changes to Constitution
With the Constitution finally going to the printers for distribution ahead of the October 15 referendum, Hussein Al-Shahristani, a leading Shi’ite lawmaker, said the latest changes include an apparent bow to demands from the Arab League that the country be described as a founding member of the 22-member pan-Arab body and that it is “committed to its charter”.
But that amended clause falls short of demands by Sunnis, who wanted the country’s Arab identity clearly spelled out and mentions of federalism be struck from the document. They argue such language could ultimately lead to the disintegration of the multi-ethnic nation.
Still, the changes, which include clarifying that water resource management is the federal government’s responsibility and that the prime minister will have two deputies in the Cabinet, are significant after weeks of discussions on the draft.
US and Iraqi forces continued their offensive on insurgents in Tal Afar and along the Euphrates River valley to the south, striking hard at what officials have said were militants sneaking across the border from Syria.
On Wednesday, two Iraqi troops were seriously wounded in an explosion as they entered a house in Tal Afar that had been previously cleared of threats, authorities said. Also, fierce fighting broke out between suspected militants and Iraqi forces in the Tal Afar district of Kadisiyah.
That operation was a continuation of an almost two-week-old offensive in the insurgent-plagued city. Iraqi and US forces have said they killed about 200 militants over the past few days and hundreds more were captured. But troops also found large swathes of the city abandoned by militants who fled in underground tunnels.
Iraq’s defence minister earlier this week pledged to clear the towns along the Iraqi border with Syria, from where officials say the militants sneak in unfettered.
On Tuesday, US forces launched an attack on the Euphrates River stronghold of Haditha, and residents reported American air strikes in the same region near Qaim, also along the Syrian border.
In other violence on Wednesday: