BAGHDAD, Iraq -- On a Saturday morning scented by ripe watermelons, fruit sellers loudly haggled as shoppers wandered past carts weighed down by fresh produce. At one stall, 12-year-old Aqil and his mother offered eggs for sale.
"Then the huge explosion came," said Raheem Shwaili, a 47-year-old shopkeeper, recounting how everything around him changed in an instant. First, there were "gray plumes of smoke," he said. "Then, the smoke became dark."
The suicide car bombing in the poor Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Sadr City killed 62 people and wounded 114 others in the deadliest single attack since the Iraqi government was formed six weeks ago. Other violence brought yesterday's death toll beyond 100 people.
The blast at the vast open-air market blew out windows, ripped doors from their hinges and set ablaze rows of cars. Afterward, small carts used by children to carry goods for shoppers lay wrecked in the dusty street among other debris: metal, human flesh and shattered vegetables.
Survivors remembered those killed in the bombing - Aqil, and his mother; Aqil's namesake, an older, trusted taxi driver; Abu Waleed, a father of six; and so many others.
"Even the animals were the victims of [the] brutality," said Hanoon Thamir, 47. "I saw an injured horse bleeding and kicking from the pain of its injuries until it died."
A Sunni militant group took responsibility for the bombing in an Internet statement that could not be verified, the Associated Press reported. The attack came as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki embarked on a trip of the region, visiting Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states to garner support for a recent reconciliation initiative intended to bridge the gap between Shiites and Sunnis.
Under the plan, amnesty will be offered to some insurgents, although it is unclear exactly how it will be implemented. Americans have criticized the plan for being too broad; Sunni Arabs have faulted it for being too narrow.
Al-Maliki said last week that extending amnesty to violent insurgents was impossible.
In Sadr City, the local Shiite political office affiliated with the firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr criticized al-Maliki for going ahead with the trip, while aggravated residents criticized the government and American troops for not preventing the attack.
"With whom does Maliki want us to make reconciliation?" resident Mansoor Munim, 26, said. "With those who are killing us daily?"
As residents tried to clean up, shoveling victims' shoes onto dump trucks, Sabri Faleh Bahadli looked on with despair. The 49-year-old baker had seen his neighbor's teenage son, Sami, stagger away from the explosion cradling his right hand, which had been almost severed.
At the morgue next to the Imam Ali Hospital, volunteers helped families find their relatives.
Sectarian violence has inexorably escalated, sending this country skittering to the edge of civil war. On one side, bombs wielded by the Sunni Arab-led insurgency have cut a bloody swath through the Shiite majority, killing soldiers and police officers, women and children. On the other, Sunni leaders allege that police officers and commandos, most of them Shiites, operate death squads that target Sunnis in a campaign of sectarian cleansing.
Yesterday, Sunni legislator Taiseer Mashhadani and her four bodyguards were kidnapped on the road from Baqubah to Baghdad. According to her political group, 30 armed men manning a checkpoint stopped her convoy, and disarmed and abducted everyone except one guard who managed to escape.
"If abducting members of parliament keeps going on, then there will be no parliament and no country," said Amal Qadhi, another legislator from the Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni group.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad condemned the kidnapping as "repugnant."
Despite a much-publicized security crackdown, additional violence claimed the lives of at least 15 other people, and authorities reported the discovery of 26 bodies in three locations yesterday.
In southern Baghdad, police discovered a grave containing 16 people who had been killed recently. Two other people were found in the southern Dora neighborhood, and on the bank of the Euphrates River near Musayab, eight other bodies were discovered. Some of victims were soldiers, others civilians; but all showed signs of torture.
Additionally, two roadside bombs killed three police officers and injured five people in separate attacks in the New Baghdad neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. Across the river, in western neighborhoods, gunmen in separate attacks killed an engineer, a taxi driver and a 20-year-old as he waited in line for gasoline in Yarmouk. North of the capital, in the restive Diyala province, gunmen fired at three brothers and two children inside a barbershop. The brothers were killed, but the barber and the children survived, authorities said.
On the road between Tikrit and Kirkuk, armed men in a convoy of 10 cars attacked a checkpoint, killing five Iraqi soldiers and abducting three others, according to an Iraqi army official. Two police officers and two civilians were injured in a drive-by attack on a police patrol in Kirkuk itself, according to Iraqi authorities.
Louise Roug and Raheem Salman write for the Los Angeles Times.