Attacks in Baghdad area kill at least 160

Al-Qaida in Iraq says it is responsible for bombs

September 15, 2005|By Aamer Madhani | Aamer Madhani,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Insurgents launched a barrage of attacks in and around the capital yesterday that killed at least 160 people and wounded hundreds, making it one of the deadliest days in the 2 1/2 - year-old insurgency.

In a matter of hours, at least a dozen bombs were detonated in the area, rattling windows and overwhelming the emergency rooms of the city's hospitals. The attacks appeared to be primarily aimed at Shiite civilians but also struck U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

The attacks continued today, when 16 policemen and five civilians were killed by a suicide car bomb in southern Baghdad. Twenty-one others were wounded, said Lt. Thair Mahmoud.

In the deadliest attack yesterday, a suicide car bomber killed 112 civilians and wounded more than 200 at a gathering spot for day laborers in a Shiite neighborhood in the northern end of the city, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Witnesses said the bomber lured some of the victims to his vehicle by announcing that he was looking for day workers. When the laborers rushed toward him in hopes of being hired, the vehicle exploded.

"We just come with the hopes of making 10,000 dinar [about $7] for one day's work," said Raheem Zahir, 32, who suffered a minor head wound in the attack. "Instead, we have to face death."

The violence occurred the same day that President Bush addressed the United Nations and called on its body's members to give greater support to the U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"The U.N. and its member states must continue to stand by the Iraqi people as they continue their journey," he said.

17 men executed

In an incident north of Baghdad yesterday, gunmen stormed a home of Tamimi tribe members near Taji and abducted 17 young men. Soon after the kidnapping, the men were found executed in a nearby town square.

Other attacks in the capital included two other car bombings that killed at least 25 people, two car bombings that hit U.S. military convoys and wounded two Americans, and a car bomb that killed three Iraqi police officers, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.

In a statement posted on the Internet yesterday, al-Qaida in Iraq took responsibility for the suicide bombings, kidnappings and shootings. The statement, which could not immediately be verified, said the attacks were staged to avenge last week's military operation by U.S. and Iraqi security forces, which was aimed at evicting militants from the northern city of Tal Afar.

In a tape recording posted on an insurgent Web site later in the day, a message purported to be from al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared a "complete war" against all Shiites. The message said the militant organization would target Shiites "all over Iraq, wherever they stay and wherever they live."

In Baghdad, Iraqi government officials denounced the insurgency and called the killings of civilians "barbaric." Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is traveling in the United States, vowed that the attacks would not deter Iraq from a path of democracy.

"Those criminals will not run away from our justice system. Our cities, our villages will not welcome them," al-Jaafari said at a town hall meeting with Iraqi expatriates in Dearborn, Mich., the Associated Press reported. "This criminal act will unite the Iraqi people more and more."

Dispute over charter

The attacks shattered a relative calm in the capital at a key juncture for the fledgling Iraqi government. A national referendum on a permanent constitution for Iraq is a month away, and tensions between Shiite and Sunni leaders have been increasing amid differences over the charter.

The Iraqi government announced yesterday that a draft of the constitution has been completed and will soon be submitted to the United Nations for printing so that it can be distributed to households throughout the country before the vote, scheduled for Oct. 15.

In its present form, the document lacks the significant changes demanded by Sunnis, who want any mention of federalism removed from the charter and the nation's Arab identity clearly spelled out.

Sunnis, who were a privileged minority under the government of Saddam Hussein and make up the bulk of the insurgency, oppose creating autonomous regional governments.

They fear that such federalism would weaken the nation's central authority and result in Sunnis' being cut out of the revenue produced by the oil-rich regions in the north and south, which are dominated by Kurds and Shiites, respectively.

Sunni leaders have called on their partisans to vote against the constitution.

Amid those differences over the constitution between members of the Shiite-dominated government and minority Sunni leaders, anxiety is growing in some quarters that the nation is moving toward an irreconcilable division and that the fresh violence could exacerbate those tensions.

At Khadimiyah Teaching Hospital, one of several hospitals in Baghdad where the dead and wounded from yesterday's bombings were brought, friends and relatives of victims crowded the entrance.

By midday, hospital officials had posted a roster on a bus shelter outside the main building listing the wounded and dead.

Sabrih Kassem Imhowish, 25, who suffered a broken leg and shrapnel wounds to much of his body, said the attack seemed particularly savage because the suicide bomber killed impoverished civilians.

Day laborers

Many of the day laborers, including Imhowish, come from southern Iraq for weeks at a time and live in ramshackle hotel rooms so that they can earn a few dollars doing construction and manual labor. "We are poor people, and we are innocent people," Imhowish said at Yarmouk Hospital. "But we are also Shiites, and that is the only thing that matters to them. They will always target us."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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