The death toll from four suicide truck bomb attacks in northern Iraq has risen to 400, a top official said yesterday, making it by far the deadliest attack since the fall of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein four years ago.
"More than 400 people were killed and the toll is expected to rise," the director of operations at the Interior Ministry, Major General Abdel Karim Khalaf, said.
The number of people killed was also the highest single toll since the Sept. 11 attacks on the US in which around 3,000 died.
Khalaf said the four suicide bombers packed two tonnes of explosives into their trucks, unleashing massive devastation on members of the ancient Yazidi religious sect in the northern province of Nineveh on Tuesday.
The new toll was announced as rescuers pulled corpses from the rubble two days after the bombings, as teams of army, police and civilians continued to claw their way through the carnage of pancaked homes in the villages of Qahataniya and Adnaniyah.
As the grim search for the dead continued, the US military blamed al-Qaeda for the latest attacks.
"The rescue teams are facing lot of obstacles because the region is far away," Khalaf said earlier, explaining the lengthy clean-up operation. "It takes a day just to reach the site of the devastation."
Officials had previously said that more than 200 people were killed and 375 wounded in the multiple blasts on the rough, isolated terrain.
US troops said they were airlifting food, medicines, bandages and blankets for the blast victims.
The slaughter was far deadlier than the attacks which killed 202 people on November 23 last year in a string of car bombs in Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City.
In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded yesterdat in a popular shopping complex, killing at least seven people and wounding another 15, officials said as the US military announced the deaths of two more soldiers in the capital.
Pressing the political agenda, Iraq's top Shiite and Kurdish leaders also announced a new alliance to salvage Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's embattled government but -- crucially -- without rival Sunni leaders.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Maliki announced the alliance between mainstream Shiite and Kurdish parties, but made no mention of Sunni leaders.
Maliki, however, said the doors were still open to the main disenchanted Sunni faction which left his government on Aug.1.
"Signing this agreement will help solve many problems in the present crisis and encourage the others to join us," Talabani said.
The government has been paralyzed by the decision of the main Sunni political bloc -- the National Concord Front -- to withdraw its ministers from the Cabinet in a power-sharing dispute with Maliki's Shiite supporters.
Yesterday's deal formalized an alliance between Maliki's Dawa party, Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi's Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Massud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party.