Baghdad, Iraq Rockets and mortars rained down Thursday on an upscale, mostly Shiite area of Baghdad, collapsing an apartment house, shattering shops and killing at least 31 people - part of the rising sectarian violence President Bush has vowed to stop.
A car bomb also exploded during the attack in the commercial-residential district of Karradah, an area that is home to several prominent Shiite politicians.
More than 150 people were wounded in the blasts, police said.
Horrified survivors milled about the street hours later, surveying the damage and blaming Sunnis from neighborhoods across the Tigris River.
"We are not infidels. It seems that we are not even safe in our homes," said one man, who, like others on the street, refused to give his name because he was afraid.
Group claims responsibility
A statement posted late Thursday on an Islamist Web site claimed responsibility in the name of the al-Sahaba Soldiers, a part of the Sunni extremist Mujahedeen Shura Council which also includes al-Qaida in Iraq.
The statement, whose authenticity could not be determined, said the attack was "in response to Shiite crimes" and warned "we are prepared for many such operations" to punish Shiites for supporting the "crusaders," or Americans, and the "treacherous" Iraqi government.
As of Thursday, at least 2,569 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,036 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.
At least two rockets slammed into Karradah, including one that collapsed an apartment house, said Lt. Col. Abbas Mohammed Salman, police commander in Karradah. Salman gave the tally of dead and wounded.
Two mortar shells exploded - one near an investment bank and another across the street near a row of shops. A car bomb went off minutes later near a gas station, shattering storefronts and spraying flaming gasoline onto homes and shops, the Interior Ministry reported.
The blasts transformed a normally bustling, generally safe area of Baghdad into a scene from a war zone. Rescuers hauled a blood-soaked boy who appeared no more than 10 from the wrecked apartment building.
Survivors help each other
A woman dressed in black sank to the street, weeping uncontrollably, when neighbors told her two of her sons were dead. Dazed survivors, some bleeding from their wounds, tried to help each other get medical aid.
Charred hulks of trucks lay on their sides in the blackened street. One detonation occurred about 600 feet from the home of Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a senior figure in the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the attack, saying it was carried out by "killers of women and children" including religious extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists.
He said security forces would hunt down "those terrorists and killers who try to incite sectarian strife."
Iraq's biggest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the attackers were bent on "sabotaging the national reconciliation plan, but they will fail" if Iraqis realize "the solution is in their hands."
The government ordered private vehicles off the streets today between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to prevent car bombs against Sunni and Shiite worshippers on Islam's main day of worship.
Sectarian attacks and intimidation began in Iraq shortly after the collapse of Saddam's regime in April 2003, fanned in large part by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who sought to trigger all-out civil war before his death last month in a U.S. airstrike.
The sectarian violence surged after the Feb. 22 bombing at a Shiite shrine, which led to reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics nationwide. Sunni-Shiite violence is most prevalent in Baghdad and religiously mixed communities around the capital.