BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber lured a crowd of Shi”ite day laborers to his minivan and blew it up, killing 114 people and wounding more than 156 in Baghdad”s old town on Wednesday, Iraq”s second deadliest car bombing since war began.
The bomber drew the men to his vehicle with promises of work before detonating the bomb, which contained up to 500 lbs (220 kilos) of explosives, an Interior Ministry source said.
Gunmen also killed 17 people in Taji, a northern suburb of the capital, while bombs exploded across Baghdad all morning. Police said they seemed to be carefully orchestrated.
"It has been a hectic day with bombs exploding across Baghdad. It is highly likely that these attacks were coordinated," a police official told Reuters.
Fears of civil war have grown in the run-up to an October 15 vote on a new constitution for Iraq”s post-Saddam Hussein era.
"We gathered and suddenly a car blew up and turned the area into fire and dust and darkness," said Hadi, one of the workers who survived the attack, which happened shortly after sunrise.
Bodies lay in the street beside burned-out cars, witnesses said. Some used wooden carts to haul away the dead.
Police said 114 people were killed and 156 wounded in the explosion. It was the deadliest attack since July, when 98 people were killed in a blast south of the capital.
The deadliest was a suicide car bomb attack on February 28 this year, which killed 125 people in Hilla, south of Baghdad.
Earlier this month more than 1,000 people died in the same district in a stampede on a bridge, triggered by fears of a bomber in a crowd during a Shi”ite religious ceremony.
"There”s no political party here, there are no police," Mohammed Jabbar railed at the scene. "This targeted civilians, innocents. Why women and children?" he added, as bystanders shouted, "Why? Why?"
At the nearby Kadhimiya hospital, overflowing with victims, dozens of the wounded screamed in agony as they were treated on the floor, some lying in large pools of their own blood.
One man had severe burns to his arms and legs, and another victim, shivering uncontrollably, lay bleeding unattended.
Iraqi government officials have accused Sunni Arab militants of attacking majority Shi”ites, who were swept to power in January elections boycotted by most Sunnis, in a bid to spark a civil war.
Around two hours later another blast was heard in central Baghdad, and two more car bombs exploded shortly afterwards.
Police said five were killed and 24 wounded in one of the blasts, near the offices of a Shi”ite cleric. They said three police and three civilians were killed in another attack on a police convoy.
As explosions followed across the capital, a suicide bomber in a car blew himself up in northern Baghdad, killing 11 people lined up to refill gas canisters, police said. Another 14 were wounded in the attack.
Separately, gunmen dragged 17 people from their homes and killed them north of Baghdad early on Wednesday, police said.
The gunmen had rounded up their victims in the middle of the night in Taji. All were shot in the head, and all were Shi”ite relatives from the same tribe, police said.
The October 15 vote has exacerbated tensions between the country”s main communities, Shi”ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
Sunnis, who account for 20 percent of the population, dominated Iraqi politics for decades, under Saddam and before, and resent their loss of influence since his removal from power by the U.S. invasion of March 2003.
They fear the constitution will institutionalize their reduced role, by increasing autonomy for southern Shi”ites in line with the broad autonomy enjoyed by Kurds in the north, and by decentralizing control of oil revenues.
The Iraqi army has been fighting Sunni insurgents for days in the northern town of Tal Afar, near the Syrian border, killing over 200 and capturing several hundred, according to Iraqi government reports.
"Since the operation began, there have been dozens of terrorists killed, 341 detained and 22 weapons caches found," the U.S. military said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
Late on Tuesday, U.S. aircraft also launched air strikes against targets in Karabila, another town near the Syrian border. The United States and Iraq say insurgents smuggle fighters and arms across the border, which Iraq closed in places on Sunday. Syria denies it.
Tensions also have been running high ahead of the trial of Saddam, still admired by some Sunnis, which is due to start on October 19. He faces trial on a single charge of mass killing in a village in reprisal for an assassination attempt on him in 1982.
If found guilty, Saddam may face death by hanging. The government has indicated it may not try him for other offences, potentially opening the way to his early execution.