Death toll in Iraq bombing claimed by IS rises to 73
The death toll from a car bombing south of Baghdad claimed by the Islamic State group rose to 73 Friday, including about 40 Iranian pilgrims, as Iraqi forces fought house to house to dislodge the extremist group from the northern city of Mosul in a five-week-old campaign slowed down by stiff IS resistance and fears of massive civilian casualties.
Iraqi police and hospital officials said 65 other people were wounded in the Thursday night attack at a gas station on a major highway near the city of Hilla, about 60 miles south of the Iraqi capital.
It was the deadliest IS attack in Iraq since July, when a car bomb killed about 300 in a commercial district in Baghdad.
IS claimed the attack in a brief statement on its Aamaq media arm, saying it was a suicide truck bomb. Earlier, Iraqi officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, had put the death toll at 56.
In Mosul, where an Iraqi government campaign to retake the city began last month, fighting continued in the eastern sector Friday, with Iraqi special forces seizing another neighborhood, Masaref, and advancing in the densely populated Zohour district, according to Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil.
The offensive to capture Zohour began earlier this week, but troops are facing spirited IS resistance, he added.
The sound of automatic fire and the thud of mortar shells and artillery shook the city’s eastern sector, east of the Tigris River, the whole day Friday.
An Associated Press team in the area said civilians fleeing the fighting continued to flow out of the inner parts of the city toward the lines of the Iraqi military. Off the back of a truck, soldiers offered them rice, potatoes and tomato sauce.
In the Bakr neighborhood, civilians lined the streets. Old and young men looked on silently, while children smiled and waved to the troops.
Lt. Col. Ali Hussein of the special forces in the Bakr neighborhood said his men were approached by three IS drones Friday, of which they shot down two. He showed the AP team the wreckage of one. The drones were not armed, only carrying reconnaissance cameras, he added.
“It was a big push, in two weeks they’d only sent three others against us,” he said of the drones.
Hussein spoke with several of the civilians fleeing their homes, offered them water and heard local grievances from elders. He also distributed medicine and food.
Thursday’s attack south of Baghdad appears to have targeted a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims heading home after a major Shiite religious observance in the holy city of Karbala.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Thursday night as saying that 80 people were killed, including 40 Iranians. Conflicting death tolls are common in the aftermath of large attacks.