A suicide bomber lured a crowd of Shiite day laborers to his minivan and blew it up in Baghdad yesterday, killing 152 people and wounding more than 542 in Iraq's second deadliest bombing since the war began.
The bomber drew the men to his vehicle with promises of work before detonating the bomb, which contained up to 220kg of explosives, an Interior Ministry source said.
"There's no political party here, there are no police," Mohammed Jabbar railed at the blast site in the Shiite Muslim Khadhimiya area. "This targeted civilians, innocents. Why women and children?" he said, as bystanders shouted, "Why? Why?"
Another car bomber blew himself up in northern Baghdad, killing 11 people lined up to refill gas canisters, as a wave of bombings rocked the capital. Gunmen also dragged 17 people from their homes and killed them in Taji, a northern suburb.
More than 150 people were killed in all the attacks, which a police official said seemed to have been carefully orchestrated.
Iraq's al-Qaeda claimed it was waging a nationwide suicide-bombing campaign to avenge a military offensive on a rebel town.
A statement on an Islamist Web site often used by the Sunni Muslim militant group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not mention a specific attack, but said the campaign was in reprisal for a US-Iraqi offensive in the northern town of Tal Afar.
"We would like to congratulate the Muslim nation and inform it the battle to avenge the Sunnis of Tal Afar has begun," it said.
Fears of civil war have grown ahead of an Oct. 15 referendum on a new constitution for Iraq.
Iraqi government officials have accused Sunni militants of attacking majority Shiites, who swept to power in January polls boycotted by most Sunnis, in a bid to spark a civil war. Most of the victims of yesterday's attacks were Shiites.
"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 at least 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 most lethal bombing since the US-led invasion of 2003 was a suicide car bomb attack on Feb. 28 this year, which killed 125 people in Hilla, south of Baghdad.
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 pools of their own blood.
Meanwhile, gunmen wearing military uniforms surrounded a Sunni village 15km north of Baghdad in the pre-dawn darkness and executed 17 men, police said.
Taji police Lieutenant Waleed al-Hayali said the gunmen had detained the victims after searching the village. They were handcuffed, blindfolded and shot. The dead included one policeman and others who worked as drivers and construction workers for the US military, al-Hayali said.
The run-up to the Oct. 15 vote has worsened tensions between Iraq's main communities, Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
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