Witnesses told wire services the blast was caused by a car bomb although authorities told other media outlets that the source of the bombing, which occurred at about 9 p.m. local time, remained unclear.
“This is a criminal attack and a terrorist act by people who have no morals or ethics,” Iraqi police chief Ahmed Qadim Ibrahim told reporters at the scene in the upscale Arasat district, according to Reuters. “It was a car bomb filled with TNT explosives.”
Some of those injured in the restaurant bombing included three Los Angeles Times reporters and four local staff members who were reported to have “cuts and bruises,” said Times managing editor Dean Baquet.
Witnesses described a scene of devastation following the blast.
“There was an explosion. The glass came flying. Everything else blew up. People were blown apart,” Basam Sarhan, a baker, told the Associated Press. He had been working in the kitchen at the back of the restaurant, near where the bomb hit.
The restaurant, called Nabil, had advertised a New Year’s Eve party with live music and belly dancing.
The restaurant’s owner, Nabil Hanna, said 50 people had booked for the party, including about a dozen foreigners, though Hanna was not at the restaurant at the time of the blast. Sarhan told the AP there were about 25 people in the restaurant when the explosion occurred, including three or four foreigners.
By Thursday morning, Coalition military officials said the death toll might reach as high as eight.
“Right now the death toll we believe is six to eight with at least 30 walking wounded who were treated at local hospitals,” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Jones told Reuters. “It was an indiscriminate targeting of Iraqi individuals as they were going to celebrate New Year.”
Wednesday night the scene was one of devastation. Several cars outside the restaurant were destroyed by fire and the blast left a large crater on a side street near the building, according to reports from the scene.
Gunfire was heard after the explosion and U.S. soldiers and military helicopters descended on the site to secure it.
An injured man, who gave his first name as Khalil, said: “I don’t know what it was, whether it was a rocket or a bomb. Why did they have to do it to us?”
The restaurant bombing occurred hours after protests and ethnic tensions in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk ended in violence. At least two people were killed and more than 20 were wounded when gunfire erupted during a demonstration in the city.
Several thousand Arab and Turkmen protesters had marched on the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Kurdish factions, demanding that the city remain under a central Iraqi government and not be part of a proposed Kurdish area.
The protestors chanted “No to federalism, Kirkuk is Iraqi.”
It was unclear who was responsible for the shooting as the rival sides blamed each other for the violence.
Residents of Kirkuk are split into three roughly equal ethnic groups: Arab, Turkmen and Kurd. Kurds on Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council are proposing that the new federal Iraqi government grant broad autonomy to the Kurdish areas of the north, with Kirkuk as its capital — a plan that is strongly opposed by Turkmens and Arabs.
U.S. soldiers were reported to have moved in tanks to secure the area and set up checkpoints at key intersections.
Meanwhile, there were two other explosions earlier Wednesday near U.S. military convoys in the capital — one a car bomb, the other a bomb hidden in bushes outside another restaurant.
A car bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy passed on a Baghdad street full of stores, destroying a Humvee vehicle, Iraqi police Sgt. Thabet Talib said. Wire services reported that an 8-year-old Iraqi boy was killed and 21 other people were wounded, including five U.S. soldiers and five Iraqi civil defense personnel.
Later in the evening, a bomb hidden in shrubs outside a separate restaurant in Baghdad exploded as a U.S. military convoy passed, wounding three American soldiers and three Iraqi civilians.