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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links