BAGHDAD – Four suicide bombers struck nearly simultaneously at communities of a small Kurdish sect in northwestern Iraq late Tuesday, killing at least 175 people and wounding 200 more, Iraqi military and local officials said.
The death toll was the highest in a concerted attack since Nov. 23, when 215 people were killed by mortar fire and five car bombs in Baghdad’s Shiite Muslim enclave of Sadr City. And it was the most vicious attack yet against the Yazidis, an ancient religious community in the region whose members are considered infidels by some Muslims.
The bombings came as extremists staged other bold attacks: leveling a key bridge outside Baghdad and abducting five officials from an Oil Ministry compound in the capital in a raid using gunmen dressed as security officers. Nine U.S. soldiers also were reported killed, including five in a helicopter crash.
U.S. officials believe extremists are attempting to regroup across northern Iraq after being driven from strongholds in and around Baghdad.
Such a retrenching could increase pressure on small communities such as the Yazidis, a primarily Kurdish group with ancient roots that worships an angel figure considered to be the devil by some Muslims and Christians. Yazidis, who don’t believe in hell or evil, deny that.
The sect has been under fire since some members stoned a Yazidi teenager to death in April. She had converted to Islam and fled her family with a Muslim boyfriend, and police said 18-year-old Duaa Khalil Aswad was killed by relatives who disapproved of the match.
The suicide bombings came just after sundown near Qahataniya, 75 miles west of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, said Abdul-Rahman al-Shimiri, the top government official in the area, and Iraq army Capt. Mohammed Ahmed.
Witnesses said U.S. helicopters swooped in to evacuate wounded to hospitals in Dahuk, a Kurdish city near the Turkish border about 60 miles north of Qahataniya.
There was no claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmark of al-Qaida in Iraq, which has been regrouping in the north after being driven from safe havens in Anbar and Diyala provinces.