Residents dug through the rubble of devastated buildings and swept bits of glass off the streets yesterday in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood pounded by a barrage of rockets, bombs and mortars. The government said at least 47 people were killed and 100 injured.
The missiles rained down on Zafraniyah in southern Baghdad on Sunday night for more than an hour, the chaos and shock heightened by explosions in vehicles rigged with bombs, residents said.
Officials said the rockets came from a mostly Sunni district, evidence that the sectarian violence roiling the capital shows no sign of stopping despite an additional 12,000 US and Iraqi troops rushing in to bring peace.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Askari told reporters that the latest violence was a desperate attempt by terrorists who are being pushed into a corner by the new security crackdown.
"Terrorists are in a critical state because they realize the security plan is succeeding. So they have begun targeting innocent people anywhere and randomly," he said.
The office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement that the attack started with a number of Katyusha rockets falling on a building on Sunday evening followed by a car bomb, more rockets on a post office, a motorcycle bomb near a public library and mortar rounds near an Armenian church.
The statement said that 47 people were killed and 100 injured. The head of a municipal council, Mohammed al-Rubaie, put the death toll at 62. The discrepancy could not be explained.
"The terrorists planned this ugly crime so that it would inflict maximum harm on innocent civilians, and this is proof of their deep-rooted hatred for Iraq and their attempt to incite sectarianism," al-Maliki said in another statement.
In Zafraniyah, massive slabs of concrete, which once were ceilings of a multi-story apartment, lay atop each other in a collapsed heap as residents lifted blocks of rubble to look for people and belongings.
A middle-aged man in a bloodstained disdasha, the traditional Arab robe, wandered aimlessly, hitting his face with his hands in grief. Residents said his six children were crushed to death when his house collapsed.
"This is terrorism against the whole nation," said Ali al-Sayedi, a municipal council member.
A pedestrian bridge, ripped off its mooring at one end, had fallen at an angle to crush a car underneath. One rocket had punched a hole in the roof of a house exposing the steel rod reinforcements inside. Store fronts were blasted inward, blowing away metal shutters.
The blackened and crumpled wreckage of an overturned car lay nearby. Several cars were twisted out of shape, their seats stained with dry blood. On the front passenger seat of one car, pink wrapping paper of what was probably a gift fluttered in the breeze amid destruction around it covered in gray and brown dust.
The attack in Zafraniyah was the deadliest since the US started sending reinforcement of about 12,000 US and Iraqi troops to the capital this month to curb a surge in sectarian violence that the UN estimated killed nearly 6,000 Iraqis in May and June.
The complex style of the assault was similar to a July 27 attack of mortars, rockets and car bombs on another mostly Shiite district, Karradah, which killed 31 people. Police said the missiles that struck Karradah also were fired from Dora.