Wednesday, September 14, 2005

BAGHDAD — A spasm of bombs claimed by al Qaeda killed at least 160 persons yesterday, marking a declaration of “all-out war” against Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslims by terror leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.

The onslaught of more than a dozen highly coordinated explosions terrorized Baghdad for more than nine hours and left 570 wounded on the capital’s bloodiest day since the end of major combat.

The attacks coincided with the Internet posting of an audiotape in which a man identified as Zarqawi declared “all-out war” on Shi’ites, Iraqi troops and the government.

The first attack — at 6:30 a.m. — was the deadliest when a suicide car bomb tore through a crowd of day laborers in the predominantly Shi’ite Muslim neighborhood of Kazimiyah.

The bomber set off the explosive after calling the laborers to his small van and enticing them with promises of work, a witness said.

At least 112 persons were killed and more than 200 were wounded, Iraqi Health Ministry officials said.

The attacks came as U.S. and Iraqi forces pressed their offensive against insurgents in the northern city of Tal Afar and along the Euphrates River valley, striking hard at what officials have said were militants sneaking across the border from Syria.

Al Qaeda in Iraq said in a separate Web posting that it launched the attacks, some less than 10 minutes apart, in response to the Tal Afar offensive, which began Saturday and evicted most insurgents from the city.

“To the nation of Islam, we give you the good news that the battles of revenge for the Sunni people of Tal Afar began yesterday,” said the statement. It was not clear why the statement referred to “yesterday.”

The audiotape was posted later yesterday. The speaker, introduced as Zarqawi, a Jordanian, said his militant forces would attack any Iraqi they think has cooperated with the Tal Afar offensive.

“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,” the speaker said.

As the hours ticked by, at least 12 car or roadside bombs shattered what had been a few days of relative calm in Baghdad. Two mortar attacks were reported, and a multitude of gunbattles broke out between U.S. and Iraqi forces and insurgents.

Also yesterday, terrorists killed 17 men — including Iraqi drivers and construction workers for the U.S. military — in a Sunni village north of Baghdad before dawn. That raised the death toll in and around the capital yesterday to 169. A senior Health Ministry official said 570 persons were wounded in all.

At least six attacks targeted U.S. forces, Iraqi authorities said. The U.S. military said there were four direct attacks on Americans, with 10 soldiers wounded. No U.S. deaths were reported.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, in the United States for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting, expressed “his personal sorrow for the victims of the attacks,” his office said.

In Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with a large Iraqi population, Mr. al-Jaafari vowed to fight back.

“Those criminals will not run away from our justice system. Our cities, our villages will not welcome them,” he said.

Yesterday’s blasts 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 referendum.

Sunni Arabs, who form the core of the insurgency, have vowed to defeat the charter.

The carnage was thought to have produced the second-worst one-day death toll since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

On March 2, 2004, coordinated blasts from suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives hit Shi’ite shrines in Karbala and Baghdad, killing at least 181 and wounding 573.

Yesterday’s bombing was the second tragedy in the Kazimiyah district in two weeks. On Aug. 31, about 950 people were killed during a bridge stampede as tens of thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims headed to a nearby shrine.

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