Attack on police, army recruits kills 122 in Iraq


Locals gather around the blown-up car of the suicide bomber who blasted a crowd of police and national guard recruits as they gathered outside a clinic in Hilla on Monday about 60 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2005 at 12:18 a.m.
HILLA, Iraq - A suicide bomber steered a sedan full of explosives into a thick crowd of Iraqi police and army recruits here Monday morning, killing at least 122, Iraqi officials said, in the deadliest single bombing since the American invasion nearly two years ago.
The bombing in Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad, tore into a crowd of several hundred recruits who were waiting for required checkups at a medical clinic across from the mayor's office and a large outdoor market.
The victims also included men, women, and children who were shopping for food and walking through a busy intersection when the car bomb exploded about 8:30 a.m., officials said. The blast left at least 170 people injured, according to the Interior Ministry, and was so powerful that it set fire to a row of shops across the street.
Witnesses described a scene of horrific carnage, with huge pools of blood visible on the pavement and mangled corpses being loaded onto wooden handcarts. Outside the clinic, blood could be seen splashed on a wall above a first-story window.
``I was standing inside the door when I saw a car coming fast down the road opposite the clinic,'' said Alaa Sami, 31, a security guard who had been inside the medical center and escaped unhurt. ``All of a sudden, the glass and shrapnel started coming down all around my head. When I got outside, I couldn't believe it: There were dead bodies everywhere, and blood on the walls and the street.''
The attack, the latest of dozens aimed at Iraq's fledgling security forces, demonstrated once again that the insurgency still packs the power to launch deadly strikes at will, despite the relatively peaceful national elections in January and the recent capture of several important leaders.
Indeed, the deadliness of the attacks appears to have increased recently, Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said Monday at a news conference in Baghdad. In recent car bombings, ``the number of casualties is much more than before,'' Naqib said.
Police officials in Babil Province, where Hilla is located, said several people had been arrested in connection with the bombing, but provided no further details, The Associated Press reported.
Before the bombing on Monday, a rash of suicide attacks in the last 10 days - including more than half a dozen aimed at disrupting the Shiite holy day of Ashura - had already left more than 100 Iraqis dead.
Other days have had higher death tolls, such as the coordinated attacks in March 2004 that left at least 181 dead in Baghdad and Karbala. But the bombing in Hilla was by a considerable margin the deadliest single bomb attack of the war. The second deadliest took place on Aug. 29, 2003, when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque in Najaf, killing at least 95.
The attack in Hilla came a day after Iraqi officials said Syria had captured and handed over Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, a half-brother of Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi officials declined to provide further details about al-Hassan's capture or reports Syria had handed over 29 additional suspected insurgents.
Kassim Daoud, Iraq's national security adviser, said that Iraqi and Syrian officials formed a committee to work on security issues four months ago, though he would not say whether the committee had played any role in al-Hassan's capture. Syria has been under intense pressure from the United States to provide more help in capturing insurgents.
In recent days, U.S. and Iraqi officials have rounded up dozens of other people suspected of being militants, including two men arrested last week whom they described as aides to the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was identified last year by Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida's chief representative in Iraq.
But despite those signs of progress, Iraqi police officers and recruits clearly remain very vulnerable targets. Many attacks have been similar to the one in Hilla, with bombers driving vehicles into large crowds of hopeful applicants gathered outside police stations and army compounds.
One of the attacks took place in Hilla in January, when a suicide bomber drove into the city's police academy, killing at least 10 people and injuring 36.
U.S. officials have declined to provide the exact number of Iraqi security officers killed in the attacks over the last 18 months or so, but they did say that the number exceeded 1,300, not counting the attack on Monday.
In recent weeks, a number of insurgent attacks have also taken aim at Shiite Muslim holy sites and celebrations in unmistakable efforts to stir sectarian violence. It is not clear whether such a motive figured in the attack in Hilla, a city of 1.2 million whose population is 85 percent Shiite.
The insurgency is led by Sunni Arabs, who dominated the government under Saddam and largely boycotted the national elections in January. One of the challenges facing the Shiites and Kurds, who are now trying to form a government, will be persuading the recalcitrant Sunnis to lay down their weapons and accept a minority status in the new Iraq.
Scattered violence broke out elsewhere in Iraq on Monday. In southern Baghdad, a suicide bomber drove into an Iraqi police patrol, killing one officer and injuring four, Interior Ministry officials said. In Baquba, northeast of the capital, an Iraqi civilian was killed and two were injured when police officers exchanged fire with insurgents near a traffic circle, officials said.
The U.S. military announced on Monday that a U.S. soldier with the 3rd Infantry Division - which took over responsibility for the Baghdad area from the 1st Cavalry Division on Sunday - died Sunday night after being shot while posted at a traffic control point. Near Tikrit, one soldier was killed and two injured on Monday afternoon in a vehicle accident, military officials said.
In the northern city of Mosul, two police officers were killed in heavy clashes with insurgents on Monday morning in the city's volatile eastern area, witnesses said.
Police officers in Baghdad arrested a number of Sudanese men on Monday after closing several blocks around Sadoun Street, and gunfire could be heard in the neighborhood throughout the late morning. Police officials declined to comment on the operation, but Iraqi military officials have said some of the foreign fighters taking part in the insurgency have been Sudanese.
Witnesses in Hilla said the suicide bomber here drove a white Mitsubishi sedan down a street that runs into the medical clinic's front entrance, detonating it just as he reached the intersection.
The blast crushed the clinic's massive wooden doors, scarred its cement facade, and left the entire intersection a smoking ruin, the witnesses said. The bomber's car was almost completely destroyed; only a part of the engine could be seen in the street afterward.
``The noise was huge,'' said Basim Ali, 28, one of the police recruits who had been knocked down by the force of the blast. ``When I opened my eyes, I found myself surrounded by dead bodies and blood. I couldn't believe my eyes.''
Hours later, Ali lay on a cot at Hilla Hospital, where most of the injured were taken. His left arm was wrapped in a bloody bandage, and his brother stood nearby trying to comfort him. After the attack, the hospital quickly ran out of beds, and dozens of additional victims were taken to a local children's hospital, hospital officials said.
Most of the victims appeared to be police and army recruits, but there were a number of women and children among the dead and the injured, said Dr. Muhammad Dia, the general director of Hilla Hospital.
Many of the dead were burned or mangled beyond recognition. Hours after the bombing, two families began fighting over a body at the city morgue, said a police officer at the morgue who identified himself only as Abu Muhammad. Both families insisted it was their son, Muhammad said, but the body was so disfigured that there was no way to tell.
Lying in his hospital bed, Ali looked baffled and enraged. ``If they are really the resistance, why don't they kill Americans?'' he said. ``This is nothing but an effort to kill Iraqi people and destroy Iraq.''

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