Children among 125 killed by suicide bomber
Hundreds of Baghdad shoppers hit in Isil attack near end of Ramadan
An Isil suicide bomber killed at least 125 people as they flocked to central Baghdad to celebrate breaking their fast for Ramadan, detonating an explosive-laden refrigerator truck in the middle of a busy shopping area.
Iraq declared three days of national mourning following the attack on the Karrada neighbourhood, the deadliest bombing to hit the country's capital this year and the third major attack carried out by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) last week.
At least 15 of those killed were children. Iraqi police warned the death toll was likely to rise as more bodies could be recovered from the ruined shopping malls, where dozens burned to death in the attack, which occurred shortly after midnight .
Hussein Ali, a former soldier, said that six workers at his family's shop died in the bombing, their bodies burnt beyond recognition.
"I will return to the battlefront. At least there, I know the enemy so I can fight him. But here, I don't know who I'm fighting," Ali said.
Firefighters were still working yesterday to extinguish the enormous fire caused by the explosion. The explosion left a charred row of buildings at the site, with several partly collapsed.
Karrada's main street is a popular area with restaurants and cafes. At the weekend, it was busy with shoppers preparing for Wednesday's Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan. "It was like an earthquake," Karim Sami, a street vendor, said.
"I was heading home when I saw a fireball with a thunderous bombing. I was so scared to go back and started to make phone calls to my friends, but none answered."
Mr Sami said that one of his friends had been killed in the bombing while another was still missing.
More than 150 people were injured in the blast, which was the third mass-killing attributed to Isil last week.
It came after a triple suicide bombing at Istanbul's Ataturk airport killed 44 people last Tuesday night and 20 people died in an attack on a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Friday.
A separate explosion in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood north of Baghdad killed another five people on Saturday night. The attack, thought to have been caused by an IED, has not yet been claimed by any group.
When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tried to visit Karrada yesterday, he was met by an angry crowd, throwing stones and bottles at his convoy.
The government faced a wave of protests this spring as Iraqis demonstrated against corruption and a lack of security and basic services.
In a statement posted online, Isil claimed responsibility for the Karrada bombing, saying its target had been Shia Muslims, which the Sunni extremist group considers to be apostates.
Isil has come under pressure in Iraq and Syria in recent months. Last Sunday, Iraqi forces declared they had liberated Fallujah. But the jihadists still control swathes of the country's northern and western provinces, including Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.
The Joint Military Operation Command announced that government forces retook seven villages south of the Isil-held city of Mosul as part of a small-scale operation started in March aimed at clearing areas outside the city to cut the supply lines and enable more troops to be deployed ahead of a major operation.
Mosul fell to Isil when the militants swept across northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014.
It is the largest city in the group's self-styled caliphate.
Mr al-Abdai faced renewed criticism in Karrada yesterday over lax security in the capital, where security forces at checkpoints still use bomb-detecting wands that were shown to be useless years ago.
"We are in a state of war, and these places are targeted. The security can't focus on the war (against Isil) and forget Baghdad," said Mr Sami.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)