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Baghdad’s bloodiest day

Baghdad, Nov. 23 (AP): In the deadliest attack on a sectarian enclave since the beginning of the Iraq war, suspected Sunni militants used three suicide car bombs and two mortar rounds on Baghdad’s Shia Sadr City slum to kill 154 people and wound 247 today, police said.

The Shias responded almost immediately, firing 10 mortar rounds at the Abu Hanifa Sunni mosque in Azamiya, killing one person and wounding 14 people in an attack on the holiest Sunni shrine in Baghdad. It blew a one-metre hole in the dome and did severe damage to some inside rooms.

Beginning at 3.10 pm (local time), the three car bomb attackers in Sadr City blew up their vehicles one after another, at 15 minute intervals, hitting Jamila market, al-Hay market and al-Shahidein Square. At about the same time, two mortar rounds struck al-Shahidein Square and Mudhaffar Square, police said.

Brigadier General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the interior ministry, told state-run Iraqiyah television that other than the vehicles that exploded, one car was captured and three were still on the run.

The health minister said the toll would rise. “Many of the dead have been reduced to scattered body parts and are not counted yet,” Ali al-Shemari said.

As the three fiery explosions sent up huge plumes of black smoke up over northeastern Baghdad, and left streets covered with burning bodies and blood, angry residents and armed Shia militiamen flooded the streets, hurling curses at Sunnis and firing weapons into the air.

Sadr City is the home of the Mehdi Army, the militia loyal to radical anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Ambulances raced to burning wooden fruit and vegetables stalls in Jamila market to rescue dozens of wounded people. Rescue workers also removed burned bodies from mangled cars and minibuses and took them away on wheeled carts. But many other corpses of adults and children remained in the streets.

Shortly after the attack, Mehdi Army militiamen deployed around the area, setting up checkpoints and roadblocks in the area to keep all strangers away.

The government imposed a curfew on Baghdad beginning at 8 pm (local time) today, saying that all people and vehicles must stay off the streets of the city until further notice.

In addition, top government officials held an emergency meeting at the home of Shia leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim that also was attended by Kurdish President Jalal Talabani, Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, an aide to al-Hakim said. The officials were believed to be discussing the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

The coordinated attack was the deadliest in Iraq since the US-led war began in March 2003. It surpassed a bombing in the southern city of Hillah that targeted mostly Shia police and National Guard recruits, killing 125 and wounding more than 140 in February 2004.

On March 2, 2004, coordinated blasts from suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives struck Shia shrines in Karbala and Baghdad, killing a total of at least 181 Iraqis and wounding 573.

Sectarian fighting also broke in another part of northern Iraq today, when 30 Sunni insurgents armed with machine guns and mortars attacked the Shia-controlled health ministry building.

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