Baghdad bombs kill 160 in war's worst sectarian attack

In the deadliest outbreak of sectarian violence since the American-led invasion of Iraq, at least 160 people were killed and 257 injured in Baghdad yesterday.

In a day of strife extreme even by the bloody standards of the country, Sunni insurgents carried out a concerted attack with suicide bombings and mortar rounds on Sadr City, a large Shia slum on the outskirts of the capital which is also the stronghold of the radical cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. Scores of people were killed by the blasts as panicked residents fled screaming from the streets.

The response was immediate and lethal, with Shia fighters launching a dozen mortar rounds and rockets into the Sunni district of Adhamiya, targeting in particular the Abu Hanifa mosque, the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad.

Further outbreaks of fighting erupted between the two communities in the north west of the city, where Sunni gunmen attacked the Shia-controlled health ministry. American helicopter gunships and Iraqi army units were called in during the three-hour firefight, which left an unspecified number dead and wounded.

With internecine killings increasing across the country, yesterday's deaths were a severe blow not only to any hopes of an accommodation between the two communities, but also to the exit strategy being desperately sought from a state in anarchy by the US and Britain.

Relations between the US and the majority Shia community, already under strain after American officials demanded that the Shia premier, Nouri al-Maliki, rein in death squads run by the interior ministry and make concessions to the Sunni opposition, was put under further pressure with a raid carried out on Sadr City by US and Iraqi government forces.

The operation, which preceded the Sunni attack, left four men dead, eight injured and five taken prisoner ­ all militia fighters, according to the Americans. The local people, however, claim that some of those killed and injured were civilians.

The raid was the fourth in six days on the neighbourhood by the Americans. The US military accuses Sadr's Mehdi Army of having kidnapped Ahmed al-Taayie, a 41-year-old naturalised American of Iraqi descent serving with US forces in the country. The militia is also suspected of kidnapping almost 150 employees from the Ministry of Higher Education earlier this month. Some of the hostages have still not been released; many who have claim to have been tortured.

Some of those killed and injured during the American raid yesterday were travelling in a mini-van. The US military maintained that the vehicle was fired upon after showing "hostile intent". However, Captain Mohammed Ishmail, of the Iraqi police, insisted the people in the van were itinerant labourers on their way to seek casual work.

Ahmed Gatie, 24, one of the passengers, said: "We had very heavy shooting. I was hit badly on my left arm. I can only feed my family when I work. What will happen now? Who will feed them now?"

Salah Salman, 25, said he took cover when the raid began and his house came under fire. "The American attack was totally unjustified," he said. "My family and I have nothing to do with the militias. There were people covered in blood. I joined others in helping police carry them from the mini-van to the morgue and the hospital."

Residents were still clearing up after the raid when the Sunni attack began, destroying houses, shops, food stalls and parked vehicles. Six cars, each packed with as much as half a ton of explosives, were used for the blasts, widely seen as retaliation for the hostage-taking of the mainly Sunni employees of the education ministry.

An angry mob stopped a seventh car which was being driven, they claimed, by a would-be suicide bomber. As ambulances arrived and the injured were being carted out on wheelbarrows, mortar fire began to fall.

The remains of the victims lay amid mangled vehicles and burning buildings. A police captain, Hassan Ali Rashid, said: "There are lots of body parts, so we don't know exactly how many people were killed. This has been a very bad day."

In an attempt to quell the sectarian violence, the Iraqi government imposed an indefinite curfew on Baghdad last night.

It also closed the international airport to commercial flights and took the highly unusual step of closing the Basra air and sea ports until further notice. Basra is the second-largest city in Iraq and its main window to shipping lanes in the Gulf. Further calls for calm and self-restraint came from leaders of the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

"We call on people to act responsibly and to stand together to calm the situation. We call for a revision of the government's existing security plans for Baghdad to better protect innocent civilians," Tareq al-Hashemi, the Vice-President and a Sunni, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the party leader and a Shia, said in the joint statement on national television, accompanied by the Iraqi President, a Kurd, Jalal Talabani.

Assault on Sadr City

Early yesterday

US troops searching for a kidnapped American soldier opened fire on a minibus, killing four passengers

11.51am GMT

30 gunmen storm the Iraq health ministry, controlled by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Five people are wounded

12.35pm

Suspected Sunni Arab militants explode a car bomb in Jamila market in Sadr City. It is followed by other blasts, at 15-minute intervals. Death toll grows throughout the day, to stand at 157 dead and 257 wounded by evening

1.30pm

A dozen mortars are fired in retaliation at the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque, the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad.

US army secretary Francis Harvey arrives in Iraq to celebrate Thanksgiving

4.39pm

Indefinite curfew announced in Baghdad.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Voices
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans
voices
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and artistic director Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic party to honour Spacey
theatreStar's successor at Old Vic theatre admits he's 'allergic to hype'
Life and Style
life + healthVirginia Ironside's dilemma, during Depression Awareness Week
Arts and Entertainment
The median income for professional writers is just £10,432, less than the minimum wage
booksSurvey reveals authors' earnings
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders