133 Killed in Baghdad Car Bombings

BAGHDAD -- In one of most devastating such attacks since the U.S. invasion, up to six car bombs killed 133 people in a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad on Thursday, and authorities imposed an indefinite curfew on the city.

A further 201 people were wounded, police said, and the Health Minister said the toll could rise. "Many of the dead have been reduced to scattered body parts and are not counted yet," Ali al-Shemari said.

Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew for Baghdad on Thursday in an attempt to prevent reprisal attacks.

The blasts, which were followed by a mortar barrage aimed at a nearby Sunni enclave, came at the same time as gunmen mounted a bold daylight raid on the Shiite-run Health Ministry.

Six parked vehicles, each packed with as much as half a ton of explosives, as well as mortars landing in the area, devastated streets and a crowded market in the sprawling Sadr City slum in east Baghdad, Major General Jihad al-Jabori of the Interior Ministry told Iraqiya state television.

The violence seemed certain to inflame sectarian passions after a week of mounting tensions at the heart of the U.S.-backed national unity government.

Washington is pressing Shiite and minority Sunni leaders to rein in militants to halt a slide toward all-out civil war.

The Sadr City blasts destroyed whole streets, leaving bloodied remains amid mangled vehicle wrecks. Fierce fires were left blazing after the attacks.

Five people were wounded at the Health Ministry, about 5 kilometers from Sadr City, an Interior Ministry source said, when about 30 guerrillas fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns into the compound in one of the biggest public shows of force by militants in the city since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The arrival of U.S. attack helicopters and ground troops eventually dispersed the assailants, ministry employees said.

Shortly afterward, a dozen mortar rounds hit Aadhamiya, a Sunni enclave in mainly Shiite east Baghdad. The Interior Ministry said it was not aware of casualties in the attack.

The Health Ministry is run by followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi militia is accused by many Sunnis of being behind some of the worst death-squad violence in the capital, in which hundreds of people a week are being kidnapped and tortured and their bodies dumped around the city.

The United Nations said Wednesday that violent deaths among civilians had hit a record of over 3,700 in October, although Iraq's health minister insisted it was much lower.