Insurgents target Iraqi police; at least 59 dead
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A car bomb Tuesday ripped through a busy market near a Baghdad police headquarters where Iraqis were waiting to apply for jobs on the force, and gunmen opened fire on a van carrying police home from work in Baqouba, killing at least 59 people total and wounding at least 114.
The attacks were the latest attempts by insurgents to disrupt U.S.-backed efforts to build a strong Iraqi police force capable of taking over security in many towns and cities ahead of nationwide elections slated for January.
An al-Qaida-linked group headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the car bomb, which exploded by a bustling row of shops and cafes and left a gaping 10-foot crater.
The blast devastated buildings and gutted cars near the western Baghdad police headquarters on Haifa street, an insurgent enclave that has been the scene of fierce clashes with U.S. troops. Though the attack apparently targeted police, many of the 47 dead were people who had been shopping or having a morning meal.
Paramedics and residents picked up body parts scattered across the street and put them into boxes. Anguished men lifted bodies burned beyond recognition and lay them gently on stretchers. Helicopters circled.
At least 114 were wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Saad Al-Amili said. Hours later, another explosion echoed across the capital, but the blast was caused by an accident involving gasoline street-side vendors, police said. There was no word on casualties.
The bomb was inside a Toyota vehicle parked near the market and a short distance down the road from the police headquarters, which was closed to traffic, said Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdel-Rahman.
Mahdi Mohammed, 30, was standing outside his barber shop when the explosion went off.
“It was a horrific scene. Seconds earlier people were drinking tea or eating sandwiches and then I could see their remains hanging from trees,” he said. “I could see burning people running in all directions.”
“This is a crime committed against innocent people who needed to find work to feed their hungry children,” said Alaa Khamas, a falafel vendor. He said he saw a man who had just bought a falafel from him killed by a flying car wheel.
Angry crowds of young men pumped their fists in the air and denounced President Bush and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, saying they had failed to protect Iraqis. “Bush is a dog,” they chanted.
Ali Abul-Amir had been waiting with those trying to join the police force but had gone around the corner to buy a drink when the explosion went off.
“Such places were targeted before,” he said. “I blame Ayad Allawi’s government for what happened because they did not take the necessary security measures.”
Others, however, directed their anger at the militants.
“Such acts cannot be considered part of the resistance (against American forces). This is not a jihad, they are not mujahedeen,” said Amir Abdel Hassan, a 41-year-old teacher. “Iraq is not a country, it’s a big graveyard,” he said.
Al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on an Islamic Web site. “Thanks to God alone, a lion from the Brigades of Those Seeking Martyrdom succeeded in attacking the center of volunteers for the renegade police apparatus,” said the statement, signed by the group.
In Baqouba, gunmen in two cars opened fire Tuesday on a van carrying policemen home from work, killing 11 officers and a civilian, said Qaisar Hamid of Baqouba General Hospital.
The incident occurred when the policemen were returning to their station after they were told that a trip to a training camp has been postponed, said an officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It was at least the second recent attack on Baqouba security forces: On July 28, a car bomb exploded outside a police recruiting center in the eastern, Sunni-dominated city, killing at least 68 people.
Attacks on Iraqi security forces and police officers – seen as collaborators by militants – have left hundreds of people dead since insurgents began a 17-month campaign to expel U.S.-led forces and destabilize Allawi’s government.
From April 2003 to May 2004, 710 Iraqi police were killed out of a total force of 130,000 officers, authorities said. Until then, police say, an officer’s death was nearly always of natural causes.
Earlier this month, a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb outside a police academy in the northern city of Kirkuk as hundreds of trainees and civilians were leaving for the day, killing at least 20 people and wounding 36.
A month earlier, a sport utility vehicle packed with artillery shells slammed into a crowd waiting to volunteer for the Iraqi military in Baghdad, killing 35.
In February, a suicide attacker targeted another army recruiting center in Baghdad, killing 47. Days earlier 53 people were killed in a similar attack south of the capital.
Meanwhile, saboteurs blew up a junction where multiple oil pipelines cross the Tigris River in northern Iraq on Tuesday, setting off a chain reaction in power generation systems that left the entire country without power, officials said.
Firefighters struggled to put out the blaze after the attack near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. Crude oil cascaded down the hillside into the river. Fire burned atop the water, fueled by the gushing oil.
Beiji is the point where several oil pipelines converge, said Lt. Col. Lee Morrison of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
One of them apparently was a domestic pipeline that fed a local power plant. The explosion set off a fire that melted cables and led to the power outage, electricity officials said.
“Beiji is the chokepoint,” Morrison said. “It’s so easy to hit.”
The 3 a.m. attack came soon after engineers had completed a two-month project to install two critical valves that had been damaged in an earlier blast.
Also Tuesday, the military said three American soldiers were killed and eight others wounded in separate attacks in Iraq in the past 24 hours.
Two American soldiers were killed and three others wounded when they came under attack from an improvised explosive device and small arms fire in Baghdad on Monday at around 4:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, one Task Force Olympia soldier was killed and five were injured when their patrol was attacked with small arms fire in the northeastern city of Mosul.
More than 1,000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the start of military operations in March 2003, according to an Associated Press tally based on Defense Department figures.