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Suicide Bomb Kills 47 in Iraq

Suicide Bomb Kills 47 in Iraq

Posted - Feb. 11, 2004 at 7:26 a.m.



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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A suicide attacker blew up a car packed with explosives in a crowd of hundreds of Iraqis waiting outside a Baghdad army recruiting center Wednesday, killing 47 people in the second bombing in two days targeting Iraqis working with the U.S.-led coalition.

The attack -- a day after a suicide bombing against a police station south of the capital killed up to 53 people -- backed threats that insurgents would step up violence to disrupt the planned June 30 handover of power to the Iraqis.

A campaign to accelerate attacks against Iraqi "collaborators" and Shiite Muslims was outlined in a document sent to al-Qaida leaders that was intercepted by the U.S. military. The letter was believed to have been written by a Jordanian militant in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who said he sought to spark a Sunni-Shiite civil war in a last-ditch attempt to wreck the handover.

The U.S. military announced a $10 million bounty for al-Zarqawi, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack, Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said.

The Baghdad attack could be part of "the ongoing pattern of intimidation we've seen of late," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the military's deputy operations chief in Baghdad, told The Associated Press in an e-mail interview. "We have stated numerous times that in the lead-up to governance, there could be an uptick in the violence."

There was no immediate indication who was behind Wednesday's attack but Col. Ralph Baker of the 1st Armored Division said it resembled "the operating technique" of al-Qaida or Ansar al-Islam, a radical Muslim group linked to Osama bin Laden's terror network.

A U.S. government official in Washington said it's not known who was responsible for the two bombings. "You can't rule out Zarqawi's involvement, but it's more likely the work of former Baathists," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The 7:25 a.m. blast tore into would-be army volunteers waiting outside the recruitment center less than a mile from the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. administration has its headquarters. Baker said a man driving a white 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra detonated about 300 to 500 pounds of explosives.

The U.S. military command said 47 were killed and 55 were wounded. Earlier, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said 46 people were killed and 54 wounded. Ministry officials could not be reached on whether the Iraqi figure had been updated.

The Interior Ministry said 46 people were killed and 54 wounded. Maj. John Frisbie, spokesman of the 2nd Brigade 1st Armored Division, put the death toll at 36.

Charred debris from the vehicle was scattered across the road in front of the center as a heavy rain soaked troops and FBI agents looking for evidence.

The recruitment center was surrounded by barbed wire and had sandbagged posts in front of it. But around 300 Iraqis were gathered outside its locked gates, waiting for it to open, and were completely exposed. Some were lined up to join the military, others waiting to depart for a training camp in Jordan.

"I was just telling my buddy that it was very dangerous to be standing here," said Ali Hussein, 22. He lay on a bed soaked in his blood at Karkh Hospital, his body shaking as he gasped for air.

He said he saw a white Oldsmobile approaching the crowd. "Then I felt nothing but fire around me." His legs were covered in bandages and he had broken bones.

Ghasan Sameer, 32, an officer in the new Iraqi army who also was wounded, said the car drove into the crowd and ran over some people before exploding.

It was at least the ninth vehicle bombing in Iraq this year. U.S. forces have been preparing the Iraqi police and military to take a larger role in battling the anti-U.S. insurgency that has been blamed on supporters of ousted leader Saddam Hussein and foreign Islamic militants.

Tuesday's suicide bombing in the predominantly Shiite Muslim town of Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, reduced parts of the police station to rubble and damaged nearby buildings.

Swannack said Iraqi police reported the driver in that attack was bearded and appeared to have been a "Wahhabi," or hard-line Sunni Muslim.

Wahhabism is the strict, fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam from which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden draws spiritual direction. Based in Saudi Arabia, its followers show little tolerance for non-Wahhabi Sunnis and Shiites.

"Iskandariyah is right on the line between Sunni and Shiite, so the attack there might be trying to foment some kind of civil war," Swannack said.

The two blasts came as a U.N. team in Iraq tried to work out differences between Iraqi factions on how to pick a new government ahead of the planned transfer of sovereignty. Frisbie said the attackers seek to make the world think Baghdad is unstable "especially in the eyes of the visiting U.N."

The Iraqi Governing Council said the two attacks aim to "destabilize Iraq and impede the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis. They want to keep Iraq occupied and kill our hopes of establishing a democratic system in the country. ... Our determination to proceed with our plans is undiminished."

In the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded when a U.S. convoy passed Wednesday. An SUV carrying coalition civilian personnel was damaged, and the U.S. military said one soldier was slightly injured.

Gunmen firing from a car attacked an office of the Democratic Assyrian Party in Mosul, injuring one security guard, according to party member Napoleon Fatou. The party represents a Christian community and has a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council.

At Karkh Hospital, relatives outside shouted the names of missing loved ones to officials inside.

The morgue's two refrigerators were stacked with bodies wrapped in blood-soaked sheets. Only one was working, and the room reeked with the smell of the dead.

At least five more bodies lay in a courtyard, with the rain pounding the plastic sheets they were wrapped in. Also strewn about the courtyard were plastic bags filled with body parts.

"I used to serve in the old Iraqi army, and I wanted to rejoin because I love my country, the great Iraq. There is no safety or security and I wanted to protect the people," said one of the wounded, Abbas Hussein, 39. "We were all happy and excited."

Insurgents have mounted a string of suicide bombings -- the deadliest so far in the northern city of Irbil on Feb. 1, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up at two Kurdish party offices celebrating a Muslim holiday, killing at least 109 people.

Since Jan. 1, at least 261 Iraqi civilians have been killed in major suicide attacks or car bombings, according to an AP tally based on reports issued by the U.S. military or Iraqi police. Neither the Iraqi interim government nor the U.S. military provides comprehensive figures on Iraqi casualties.

At least 532 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Defense Department. Of those, 372 died from hostile action.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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