The truck detonated in the Jameela market in the Iraqi capital’s crowded Sadr City neighborhood shortly after dawn, according to two local police officers. They also said that at least 125 people were wounded in the attack. The market is the main center for produce and food sales in the Iraqi capital.
Residents of the Shiite community rushed to help the victims, carrying corpses in garbage bags and blankets, and sent the wounded to local hospitals in ambulances or personal cars. The blast incinerated much of the market, leaving charred wooden market stalls and scattering fruits and vegetables far around it.
Fire trucks and ambulances were at the scene and fire men were dousing the still-smoldering complex with water long after the explosion.
“On Thursdays the market is especially crowded because people come from the other provinces to stock up on food for the weekend,” one of the officers said.
He said the truck that set off the explosion was a refrigeration truck, so it was impossible to distinguish it from other trucks delivering produce to the market.
A minibus driver, Hassan Hamid, said he driving not far from the area when the force of the explosion threw his vehicle about 10 meters (yards) away and onto the sidewalk.
“This is the strongest explosion I’ve ever seen in my life,” said the 37-year old father of three, speaking from his hospital bed where he was being treated for shrapnel injuries. “I saw some cars were thrown into the sky and a fire erupted all over the place.”
Four hospital officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
In a message posted on an ISIS-affiliated Twitter account, the ISIS said the attack was carried out by a parked, explosives-laden truck. The claim says the ISIS seeks to have the “rejectionists (Shiites) experience the same harm as their bombardments cause to our Muslim people.”
The Sunni militant group, which roughly holds a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in their self-declared “caliphate,” views Shiite Muslims, as well as other religious minorities, as apostates.
It often targets military checkpoints or predominantly Shiite neighborhoods such as Sadr City, with the goal of sending a message to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Commercial and public areas are also among the militants’ favorite targets as they seek to undermine the people’s confidence in government efforts to maintain security.
While near-daily attacks are common in the capital, death tolls have rarely reached this level for a single attack in Baghdad since the height of the country’s brutal sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007.
When they launched their major onslaught across northern Iraq last year, the ISIS vowed to continue on to Baghdad. But a mobilization of volunteer Shiite fighters deterred any significant attacks on the capital.
The ISIS also claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing on Monday in a busy marketplace in Baquba, the capital of eastern Diyala province, which killed 34 people. The extremist group also targeted a popular market in Diyala last month, killing more than 115 people in one of the worst-single attacks to tear through the country in a decade.
The Iraqi military launched a large-scale operation last month to retake the western province of Anbar from the ISIS. A U.S.-led coalition has been reinforcing Iraqi troops in their efforts to claw back territory from the militants for the past year.
While security forces successfully managed to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in April, operations elsewhere in the country have stalled as government-backed forces struggle to dislodge the militant group from the country’s biggest Sunni strongholds.