BAGHDAD — Rescuers used bare hands and shovels Wednesday to claw through clay houses shattered by an onslaught of suicide bombings that killed at least 250 and possibly as many as 500 members of an ancient religious sect in the deadliest attack of the Iraq war.
The U.S. military blamed al-Qaida in Iraq, and an American commander called the assault an “act of ethnic cleansing.” The victims of Tuesday night’s coordinated attack by four suicide bombers were Yazidis, a small Kurdish-speaking sect that has been targeted by Muslim extremists who consider its members to be blasphemers.*
The blasts in two villages near the Syrian border crumbled buildings, trapping entire families beneath mud bricks and other wreckage. Entire neighborhoods were flattened.
Death estimates ranged widely.
Zayan Othman, health minister for Iraq’s nearby autonomous Kurdish region, said 250 bodies had been pulled from the rubble and some 350 people were injured.
But the death toll was put as high as 500 by some local officials, including Hashim al-Hamadani, a senior provincial security official; Kifah Mohammed, director of Sinjar hospital; and Iraqi army Capt. Mohammed Ahmed. They agreed with Othman that about 350 were wounded.
Even the lower death estimate far surpassed the previous bloodiest attack of the war _ 215 people killed by mortar fire and five car bombs in Baghdad’s Shiite Muslim enclave of Sadr City last Nov. 23.
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WIKIPEDIA: *In the Yazidi worldview, God created the world, which is now in the care of a Heptad of seven Holy Beings, often known as Angels or heft sirr (the Seven Mysteries). Pre-eminent among these is Melek Taus (Tawuse Melek in Kurdish), the Peacock Angel, who is equated with Satan or Devil by some Muslims and Christians. According to the Encyclopedia of the Orient, “The reason for the Yazidis reputation of being devil worshipers, is connected to the other name of Melek Taus, Shaytan, the same name as the Koran‘s for Satan.” However, according to the Kurdish linguist Jamal Nebez, the word Taus is most probably derived from the Greek and is related to the words Zeus and Theos, alluding to the meaning of God. Accordingly, Malak Ta’us is God’s Angel, and this is how Yazidis themselves see Melek Taus.