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Wave of attacks kills more than 150 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq—In a relentless series of attacks that struck nearly every corner of this city, suicide bombers killed at least 152 people in Baghdad on Wednesday—the deadliest day for the capital since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

At least 560 people were injured, including two U.S. soldiers, Iraqi authorities said.

Al-Qaida in Iraq took responsibility for the attack, saying the bombings were in retaliation for a U.S. and Iraqi military offensive this week in the northern city of Tal Afar, a town that government officials said has become a stopping point for foreign fighters entering the country from Syria.

The group's leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, allegedly said in an audio statement posted on the Internet that he was declaring war on Shiite Muslims and that he would attack anyone who cooperated with the Tal Afar offensive. There was no way to verify the authenticity of the recording.

At least a dozen explosions shook this city Wednesday, beginning at about 6:45 a.m. and continuing until after 3 p.m. When it was over, most of the city had been affected.

Residents in several neighborhoods said their windows had been blown out or that they heard explosions. Passengers at Baghdad International Airport felt the terminal shake from a mortar attack. Government workers inside the Green Zone felt the aftershocks of a nearby car bomb that targeted soldiers patrolling outside the fortified compound.

Injured patients filled hospital corridors throughout the city; some of them were transported to farther hospitals because of overcrowding.

The city had been relatively calm in recent weeks, allowing some residents and government officials to hope that the military offensives in the country were thwarting the insurgency. But the attacks Wednesday—and the appearance that the attackers were unfettered by Iraqi security forces—indicated to many in Baghdad that the insurgency was still intact.

"Iraq is finished. There is no solution," said Jassim Abbas, 17, a Shiite who works in a carpet shop in central Baghdad. Abbas said one of the explosions shattered the windows of his house and burned cars on his street.

The first attack was the deadliest, striking in the largely Shiite neighborhood of Kadhemiya at a place where laborers gather in hopes of being hired for pick-up work at the rate of $10 to $15 for the day.

According to police, someone approached the men and asked for workers, drawing the men closer together. He then detonated a minibus, according to police.

The explosion killed at least 112 people and injured 200, according to the Interior Ministry.

Ali Nabeel al-Timimi, 34, who lives in Kadhemiya, said the scene was horrific.

"The smell of the burned bodies was there. Pieces of flesh were on the ground. We weren't even able to walk. The ground was full of blood," al-Timimi said. "People were crying so hard. Some of them couldn't cry. They were just were staring at the scene, looking so shocked."

The local television news broadcast of the scene showed fruit and vegetable vendors pushing large empty carts through the carnage, picking up charred body parts. In the background were destroyed storefronts.

The government later announced that it had detained the man who orchestrated the attack, saying he was a foreign national.

The car bombs and explosions continued throughout the day. Many of the attacks appeared to target Shiites, sometimes in Sunni neighborhoods. In Amariyah, a largely Sunni neighborhood, a car bomb detonated as an Iraqi police patrol passed. The Iraqi police are believed to be made up mostly of Shiites.

In northwest Baghdad, four people were killed and 25 were injured when an explosion struck a shopping district, the Interior Ministry said. And in eastern Baghdad, two police officers were shot to death; a third died when he came to investigate the shooting and a suicide bomber detonated.

In five other attacks, U.S. soldiers were targeted during patrols. Two soldiers were injured, according to a military spokesman.

And just before noon, a series of mortars fell near the city's airport, shaking the terminal. Some passengers screamed, witnesses said. No one was injured.

In addition, 17 Shiites were taken from their homes and executed around dawn in Taji, just north of Baghdad.

The offensive on Baghdad overtook a government announcement that a copy of Iraq's proposed constitution had been presented to the National Assembly, ending weeks of wrangling over last-minute changes. The United Nations will begin printing 5 million copies to distribute to voters for the Oct. 15 referendum on the document.

Members of the Iraqi government condemned the attacks, calling the attackers cowards who are frustrated by the nation's move toward democracy. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who was visiting the United States, offered his condolences.

In Baghdad, some government officials, along with multinational forces, held an emergency meeting to decide what to do next. Others said they didn't know how to stop the attacks.

Earlier this week, U.S. and Iraqi officials said their joint offensive in Tal Afar killed at least 200 suspected insurgents and cleared the city of foreign fighters. But after Wednesday's attacks, some worried that the insurgents had moved from Tal Afar to Baghdad.

Hasan al-Rubai, a National Assembly member, said insurgents could strike at will.

"The proof is today," he said.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Alaa al Baldawy, Mohammed al Dulaimy and Zaineb Obeid contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050914 Baghdad blast

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