November 24, 2006
Iraqis watch cars burning after a string of bomb attacks Thursday in Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold in Baghdad.
Police called it the deadliest single strike in Iraq since the war began more than three years ago.
Bombs and mortar shells struck Sadr City at 15-minute intervals, beginning about 3 p.m., according to The Associated Press, with the first bombing hitting a vegetable market.
Shiites responded almost immediately, the AP reported, firing 10 mortar rounds at the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad, the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque in Azamiya. The attack killed one person and wounded 14 others, the AP said.
Leaders from Iraq's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities issued a televised appeal for calm, according to the AP.
Witnesses told CNN that people on loudspeakers at Shiite mosques in urged residents to donate blood for the wounded in Sadr City.
Earlier reports indicated 144 people were killed and 206 were wounded, but an Iraqi Health Ministry official on Friday who surveyed the aftermath said the death toll stood at 138, with more than 200 people wounded in the blasts.
Health Minister Ali Shammari said six car bombs detonated in the attack.
"This is a bloody day," he said.
The Interior Ministry imposed a curfew for Baghdad starting at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than the usual overnight curfew begins. It's unclear how long the curfew extension will last.
An Interior Ministry official said Baghdad's International Airport has been closed till further notice.
"As of right now, we have no reports of Iraqi army or coalition force casualties. There are no U.S. units in Sadr City," U.S. Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said.
He said the 9th Iraqi Army and coalition advisers are on the scene. U.S. helicopters flew over but did not engage any targets, and there has been no reported fighting involving coalition forces.
"There have been reports of residents randomly firing weapons after the [car bomb] detonations," said Garver, who added conditions had calmed down.
Thursday's violence came a day after a U.N. report about Iraq that underscored the unbridled sectarian violence in Iraq. The report said that 3,709 civilians were killed in violence in Iraq in October -- the highest monthly toll since the war's start. (Full story (http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/11/22/iraq.report/index.html))
Thursday's attacks, launched within the course of half an hour, were part of a spasm of violence that shook two Baghdad bastions of support for anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- the Sadr City slum in the Iraqi capital's northeast and the Health Ministry compound, controlled by the cleric's political movement.
At least 30 gunmen thought to be from a Sunni neighborhood attacked the Health Ministry, police said.
U.S. military commanders suspect al-Sadr's movement is at the center of sectarian fighting in the capital over the past year.
There were no immediate details about casualties at the ministry compound, which is in central Baghdad's Bab al-Mudham area.
At least three mortar rounds landed inside the compound, police said, and the gunmen tried to break into it and fought with ministry security guards.
A Health Ministry official said the attackers came from the nearby Sunni neighborhood of Fadhel and that they also struck the Shiite Endowment, which manages Shiite institutions around the country.
There were other attacks earlier this week on Health Ministry officials. A deputy minister was kidnapped Sunday, and another official escaped injury Monday when gunmen opened fire on his convoy and killed two of his guards.
Police said U.S. forces killed four people Thursday when they opened fire on a minibus in Sadr City.
The U.S. military later said Iraqi troops fired at a vehicle that posed an "immediate threat" in Sadr City when they were looking for an insurgent who apparently knows the whereabouts of a U.S. soldier kidnapped last month.
The action came during a raid, one of several in the area since Spc. Ahmed K. Altaie disappeared October 23 in Baghdad.
Four civilians also were wounded in the incident, which occurred on Fallah Street, a busy thoroughfare, the Baghdad police official said. The U.S. military said there were no Iraqi military or coalition casualties. Iraqi forces detained five suspected cell members.