Rescuers dug through the muddy wreckage of collapsed clay houses in northwest Iraq yesterday, uncovering victims of four suicide bombings that Iraqi officials said killed at least 200 people in one of the worst attacks of the war.
The victims were members of a small Kurdish sect -- the Yazidis -- targeted by Muslim extremists who consider them infidels.
Four suicide truck bombers struck nearly simultaneously on Tuesday, killing more people than any other concerted attack since Nov. 23 last year, when 215 people were killed by mortar fire and five car bombs in Baghdad's Shiite Muslim enclave of Sadr City.
It was most vicious attack yet against the Yazidis, an ancient religious community in the region. Some 300 people were wounded in the blasts, said Dakhil Qassim, the mayor of the nearby town of Sinjar.
Qassim said the four trucks approached the town of Qahataniya, 120km west of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, from dirt roads and all exploded within minutes of each other. He said the casualty tolls were expected to rise.
"We are still digging with our hands and shovels because we can't use cranes because many of the houses were built of clay," Qassim said. "We are expecting to reach the final death toll tomorrow or day after tomorrow as we are getting only pieces of bodies."
US Brigadier General Kevin Bergner said yesterday that he believed the bombings were the work of al-Qaeda.
"The car bombs that were used all had the consistent profile of al-Qaeda in Iraq violence," Bergner told reporters in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. "We're continuing to investigate, and we'll learn more in the coming days."
The bombings came as extremists staged other bold attacks on Tuesday: leveling a key bridge outside Baghdad and abducting five officials from an Oil Ministry compound in the capital in a raid using gunmen dressed as security officers. Nine US soldiers also were reported killed, including five in a helicopter crash.
The carnage dealt a serious blow to US efforts to pacify the country with just weeks to go before a pivotal report to the US Congress.
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