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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin