Insurgents Kill 160 in Baghdad

Smoke rises in the air following a suicide attack in Baghdad 14 September 2005.
Smoke rises in the air following a suicide attack in Baghdad. (Karim Sahib - AFP)
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 15, 2005

BAGHDAD, Sept. 15 -- Insurgents struck the Iraqi capital Wednesday with at least a dozen attacks that targeted Shiite Muslim civilians, Iraqi security forces and American troops, killing more than 160 people in the deadliest day of violence in Baghdad since the U.S. invasion more than two years ago.

U.S. military officials said the day-long wave of suicide bombings, rocket attacks and shootings across the city bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda in Iraq, the radical Sunni Muslim insurgent organization led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian.

The group did not immediately assert direct responsibility for the attacks, but an Internet statement issued in its name welcomed the start of "revenge battles throughout the land of Mesopotamia."

The statement linked the attacks to a U.S. and Iraqi offensive underway against insurgents in the northwestern city of Tall Afar. A subsequent audio recording attributed to Zarqawi, which was posted on the Internet, accused the Shiite-led Iraqi government of having declared war on Sunnis in that city. As a result, al Qaeda in Iraq "has decided to launch a comprehensive war on the Shiites all over Iraq, wherever and whenever they are found. This is revenge. . . . Take care, because we are not going to have mercy on you," the recording said, according to a translation by the Washington-based SITE Institute, a group that monitors radical Web sites.

The attacks appeared calculated to undermine public faith in the ability of the fledgling government to protect its people, by showing that insurgents could strike in Baghdad despite the U.S. and Iraqi military efforts to stop them. Some of Wednesday's attacks were carried out in ways that maximized death tolls.

In northwest Baghdad, a driver in the heavily Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiyah pulled up alongside a gathering point for day laborers and offered the men jobs, witnesses said. He waited until a crowd of workers had clustered around his four-door car, then detonated explosives packed inside, said Salim Hussein, 20, who witnessed the attack.

The blast killed at least 112 people and wounded hundreds of others.

As burned, blackened victims filled the district hospital, a Shiite cleric patrolled the scene of the bombing in an ambulance, calling over the vehicle's loudspeaker for donations of blood. Men looking for loved ones ran fingers down pages and pages of names of bombing victims posted outside the hospital.

"Why haven't they killed Saddam?" wailed a Shiite woman in black abaya as she walked away from the hospital. "Cut his head off."

Within an hour of that attack, a driver smashed his car into two other vehicles at an intersection, then blew up the vehicle when a crowd gathered, police said. At least 15 people died, police Lt. Mustafa Majid said.

"I saw people's bodies flying in the air and thrown for yards," minibus-taxi driver Amer Salman said.

More attacks were mounted throughout the day, signaled by rattling booms, black smoke and U.S. military helicopters shuttling across the sky. Traffic on main roads shut down as police closed key routes. Rumors spread that more car bombers were roaming the city and that men wearing suicide belts were infiltrating hospitals.

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