String of bombings kills more than 150 in Sadr City
Sunni-Shi’ite Jihad Update. “150 die in deadliest attack of Iraq war” by Thomas Wagner for The Associated Press:
BAGHDAD, Iraq – In the deadliest attack since the beginning of the Iraq war, suspected Sunni-Arab militants used three suicide car bombs and two mortar rounds on the capital’s Shiite Sadr City slum to kill at least 150 people and wound 238 on Thursday, police said.
The Shiites responded almost immediately, firing 10 mortar rounds at the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque as Azamiya, killing one person and wounding seven people in their attack on the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad.
The Interior Ministry imposed a curfew on Baghdad until further notice.
Beginning at 3:10 p.m., the three car bomb attackers blew up their vehicles one after another, at 15 minute intervals, hitting Jamila market, al-Hay market and al-Shahidein Square in Sadr City. At about the same time, mortar rounds struck al-Shahidein Square and Mudhaffar Square, police said.
As the fiery explosions sent up huge plumes of black smoke up over northeastern Baghdad, and left streets covered with burning bodies and blood, angry residents and armed Shiite militiamen flooded the streets, hurling curses at Sunni Muslims and firing weapons into the air.
Ambulances raced to the scenes and police Col. Hassan Chaloub said at least 145 people were killed and 238 wounded in the blasts, which destroyed many outdoor food stalls and parked automobiles and buses.
Sectarian fighting also broke in another part of northern Iraq on Thursday, when 30 Sunni insurgents armed with machine guns and mortars attacked the Shiite-controlled Health Ministry building. After a three-hour battle, during which Iraqi soldiers and U.S. military helicopters intervened, the attackers were repulsed. But at least seven guards of the ministry were wounded, said police 1st. Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razaq.
The Sadr City and Health Ministry attacks were the latest example of widespread sectarian fighting involving Sunnis and Shiites that is leaving Iraq either on the verge of a civil war or already fighting one.
At about noon Thursday, heavy clashes broke out between about suspected Sunni insurgent gunmen and guards at the Shiite-controlled Health Ministry building in northwest Baghdad, security officials said.
State-run Iraqiyah television said the Health Ministry was being attacked with mortars by “terrorists who are intending to take control of the building.”
Security officials said about 30 gunmen, believed to be Sunni insurgents, had launched the attack. Iraqi troops were being rushed to the area and all roads leading to the ministry in Bab al-Muadham neighborhood were closed, said the security officials on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Police Lt. Ali Muhsin said the attack began at 12:15 p.m. when three mortar shells hit the building, causing damage. After that, gunmen on the upper floors of surrounding buildings opened fire.
Ministry workers were trapped in the building.
“The gunmen fled as American helicopters and Iraqi armored vehicles arrived. Employees were able to leave starting about 3:15 p.m.,” Health ministry spokesman Qassim Yehyah said.
Health Minister Ali al-Shemari is a follower of al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite cleric.