Suicide bombers killed nearly 100 people Friday in one of the deadliest days of Iraq's insurgency, bringing houses down on sleeping families in Baghdad and shredding Shiite Muslim worshipers in two mosques in the eastern part of the country just as the victims turned their faces up to the preachers to hear their Friday sermons.
"We had just said 'God is Great' -- and then I felt nothing but a massive explosion," Mohammed Kofiq Akram said by telephone from a hospital in Khanaqin, the northeastern town where most of the deaths occurred. Akram said his head and right shoulder had been blasted by shrapnel.
At least 90 people were killed in the two mosques, according to Ibrahim Hassan Bajillan, head of the governing council for Diyala province. In both buildings, witnesses said, the explosions came just as worshipers were settling themselves on the floor to listen to their imams after finishing ritual prayers.
In Baghdad, there were no casualties in a hotel that Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers said was the target of two successive bombings. But the explosions leveled the simple houses outside the hotel's blast walls, killing at least eight people.
In the aftermath of the Baghdad blasts, emergency workers scooped a wailing, bleeding girl of about 8 or 9 off a mound of rubble from a collapsed apartment building while twisted vehicles burned and firefighters clawed with their hands to reach trapped families. "My son! My son!'' one woman screamed, collapsing in the arms of a ring of women in black abayas. The boy had been crushed to death.
Nationwide, the attacks were the deadliest since Sept. 14, when at least 14 insurgent bombings in Baghdad killed more than 160 people. Al Qaeda in Iraq was believed to have been involved in at least the Baghdad blasts on Friday. The insurgent group said in a statement that the bombings represented retaliation for a U.S. military offensive still underway in far western Iraq.
As in the September attacks, most of the victims Friday were civilians.
The same ruthless frequency of attacks that has dulled international attention to the carnage in Iraq has made Baghdad's emergency workers briskly efficient. Firefighters, sweating from exertion despite the coolness of the autumn morning, ferried oxygen and water to a man trapped under what had been the top floor of his home.
"Go! Go!" watching men exhorted.
The rescue fixated the neighborhood for more than an hour while other firefighters pulled one or two contorted, flopping corpses from nearby apartments.
When the survivor proved to be a Sudanese Arab -- a member of a group mistrusted by many in Iraq -- the neighbors watched silently. No cheers went up as rescuers carried the man on a stretcher down the hill of broken masonry, his body almost miraculously spared injury and his head twisting as he craned to see the destruction.
"Take pictures! Take more pictures of our tragedy!" a woman standing in one of at least four small, destroyed apartment buildings cried out to photographers as a neighbor wiped blood from her face.
"Let Bush see them,'' said the woman, who identified herself as Um Ahmad. "Let him be happy to see these pictures. Let him see what he did to us. We used to live in peace before he entered our country."
A man known in the neighborhood to be emotionally disturbed walked up to American soldiers at the scene to seek treatment for his bleeding face and back. As the Americans struggled to communicate with him, the man switched to English. "Why?" he cried. "Why?"
The dead in Baghdad included two women and two children, according to rescue crews.
Iraqi police and a U.S. military officer said the blasts in the capital appeared to have targeted the Hamra Hotel, which houses some Westerners, including journalists. The attackers apparently used a mix of high- and low-grade explosives and two vehicles to try to blow their way into the hotel compound, security officials said. The relatively sophisticated operation was almost identical to an Oct. 24 attack on the Palestine Hotel, which also houses Westerners. Eighteen Iraqis died in that triple-bomb attack.
A security camera at the Hamra filmed the first vehicle, a white van or minibus, as it exploded outside concrete blast walls guarding the hotel. The vehicle billowed into flame and dust as it drew level with a hotel employee walking to work.
The first blast appeared intended to blow down the blast walls so a second, larger vehicle bomb could enter the hotel complex, security officials said. But debris and craters left by the first blast apparently blocked the second vehicle, which exploded among the apartment buildings outside.
The force of the blast sent a bomber's foot into the hotel courtyard, and a scalp landed on the tile around the hotel pool. Part of what looked like an arm cleared the 12-story hotel to land in a yard hundreds of feet away.
A third vehicle bomb was discovered and detonated hours later.
The hotel bombings occurred less than a block from an Interior Ministry building where U.S. troops this week found a secret prison housing scores of mostly Sunni Arab prisoners. The security camera tape and other evidence indicated, however, that the hotel and not the now-emptied clandestine prison was the target, authorities said.
Friday's bombings in Khanaqin blew the roofs off both mosques, leaving them open to the sky and the tiled minarets above. Survivors gave nearly identical descriptions of both blasts: The attackers lined up among the rows of men and detonated explosive belts strapped around their waists.
The number of dead was expected to rise when the search for bodies resumed at daylight, said Bajillan, the provincial official.
Such blasts are comparatively infrequent in the Kurdish-populated north, which has been spared much of the bloodshed afflicting the rest of Iraq. In Baghdad and towns just to the south, attacks by the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency on Shiite mosques have killed hundreds of civilians, particularly since the Shiite-controlled government took office nearly seven months ago.
Special correspondent Hassan Shammari contributed to this report from Diyala province.