BAGHDAD, Iraq – More than a dozen explosions ripped through the Iraqi capital in rapid succession Wednesday, killing at least 160 people and wounding 570 in a series of attacks that began with a homicide car bombing that targeted laborers assembled to find work for the day. Al Qaeda in Iraq (search) claimed responsibility.
The death toll at hands of insurgents in the capital Wednesday far exceeds the carnage inflicted in any one day since the war began.
Al Qaeda in Iraq linked the attacks to the recent killing of about 200 militants from the city of Tal Afar by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Before dawn Wednesday, 17 men were killed by insurgents in the village of Taji north of Baghdad, which pushed the death toll in all violence in and around the capital to 169.
Wednesday's deadliest bombing killed at least 112 people and wounded more than 200 in the heavily Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah (search) where the day laborers had gathered shortly after dawn.
It was the worst single day of bloodshed since March 2, 2004, when coordinated blasts from homicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives hit Shiite Muslim shrines in Karbala (search) and in Baghdad, killing at least 181 and wounding 573.
The Al Qaeda statement posted on a militant Web site declared that "the good news that the battles of revenge for the Sunni people of Tal Afar began yesterday."
Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, purportedly has declared "all out war" on Shiite Muslims, Iraqi troops and the government in audio tape released on the Internet on Wednesday. The speaker on the tape, introduced as al-Zarqawi, also said his militant forces would attack any Iraqi it believes has cooperated with an ongoing U.S.-led offensive in Tal Afar.
"If proven that any of [Iraq's] national guards, police or army are agents of the Crusaders, they will be killed and his house will demolished or burned — after evacuating all women and children — as a punishment," according to the tape, which surfaced on an Internet site known for carrying extremist Islamist content.
A senior U.S. military official said he believed the bombings were in retaliation for the joint Iraqi-U.S. sweep through Tal Afar.
The wave of bombings, which began shortly after dawn and continued until about 4 p.m., coincided with Iraqi lawmakers announcing the country's draft constitution was in its final form and would be sent to the United Nations for printing and distribution ahead of an Oct. 15 national referendum. Sunni Muslims, who form up the core of the insurgency, have vowed to defeat the basic law.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, visiting Arab-Americans in suburban Detroit, was quoted by Iraqi television as saying that Iraqi forces had arrested two insurgents in connection with the Kazimiyah bombing, one of them a Palestinian and the other a Libyan. He said the homicide bomber was a Syrian.
At Kazimiyah Hospital, dozens of wounded men lay on stretchers and gurneys, their bandages and clothes soaked in blood. One older man in a traditional Arab gown and checkered head scarf sat in a plastic chair, his blood-soaked underwear exposed with a trail of dried blood snaking down his legs.
The hospital received 47 dead and 75 wounded, said Dr. Qays Abdel-Wahab al-Bustani.
In Kazimiyah's Oruba Square, twisted hulks of vehicles blocked the main street after the homicide attacker drove a small van into the midst of the assembling laborers.
Politicians denounced the attack, with Hussain al-Shahristani, deputy speaker of the National Assembly, calling it "barbaric and gruesome."
The Kazimiyah district also was the site of a bridge stampede involving tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims on Aug. 31 that killed 950 people.
In the pre-dawn attack in the Sunni village of Taji, about 10 miles north of Baghdad, the 17 men were handcuffed, blindfolded and shot to death by gunmen wearing military uniforms who had searched the area, said police Lt. Waleed al-Hayali.
The dead included one policeman and others who worked as drivers and construction workers for the U.S. military, said al-Hayali.
Most of the violence, however, was concentrated in and around the capital. U.S. forces were the targets of at least three of the attacks. In the most serious, an American military convoy was hit by a car bomb in eastern Baghdad, wounding two U.S. soldiers, the military said.
Hours later, in the northern district of Azamiyah, gunmen opened fire on a police car, killing two top police officials and two officers. Three Iraqi soldiers and four policemen died when a homicide car bomber struck as rescuers arrived to help, said police Capt. Nabil Abdul Kadir.
Another car bomb exploded alongside an Iraqi military convoy in the northern Baghdad district of Shula, killing at least two people, authorities said.
A homicide car bomber attacked a U.S. convoy in central Baghdad, just a few hundred yards outside the northern border of the heavily fortified Green Zone, police said. An exchange of heavy machine gun fire rattled for about 10 minutes after that blast, which injured 14 Iraqi police officers and sent columns of black smoke billowing over the city. It was not clear if there were an U.S. casualties.
With the constitution finally going to the printers for distribution ahead of the Oct. 15 referendum, Hussein Al-Shahristani, a leading Shiite lawmaker, said the latest changes included an apparent bow to demands from the Arab League that the country be described as a founding member of the 22-member pan-Arab body and that it was "committed to its charter."
But that amended clause falls short of demands by Sunnis, who wanted the country's Arab identity clearly spelled and mentions of federalism be struck from the document. They argue such language could ultimately lead to the disintegration of the multiethnic nation.
Still, the changes were significant after weeks of discussions on the draft. They included clarifying that water resource management was the federal government's responsibility and that the prime minister would have two deputies in the Cabinet.
U.S. and Iraqi forces continued their offensive on insurgents in Tal Afar and along the Euphrates River valley to the south, striking hard at what officials have said were militants sneaking across the border from Syria.
On Wednesday, two Iraqi troops were seriously wounded in an explosion as they entered a house in Tal Afar that had been previously cleared of threats, authorities said. Also, fierce fighting broke out between suspected militants and Iraqi forces in the Tal Afar district of Kadisiyah.
That operation was a continuation of an almost 2-week-old offensive in the insurgent-plagued city that killed about 200 militants over the past few days and captured hundreds more. Troops also found large swaths of the city abandoned by militants who fled in underground tunnels.
Iraq's defense minister earlier this week pledged to clear the towns along the Iraqi border with Syria, from where officials say the militants sneak in unfettered.
On Tuesday, U.S. forces launched an attack on the Euphrates River stronghold of Haditha, and residents reported American air strikes in the same region near Qaim, also along the Syrian border.
In other violence Wednesday:
— A mortar shell landed on a civilian vehicle in eastern Baghdad, killing the driver, police said.
— Gunmen shot to death an Iraqi army officer and wounded a man nearby in the southern Dora district of Baghdad, police Capt. Firas Qity said.
— Gunmen killed a police officer in Rumatha, about 217 miles south of Baghdad.