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Bomber Kills 50 at Iraqi Police Center

Associated Press | May 4, 2005
By YAHYA BARZANJI

IRBIL, Iraq - An Iraqi carrying hidden explosives set them off outside a police recruitment center Wednesday where people were applying for jobs, police said. The U.S. military said at least 50 Iraqis were killed, making it the deadliest insurgent attack in Iraq in more than two months.

State-owned TV in Iraq and Al-Arabiya television gave even higher casualty figures, saying 60 were killed and as many as 150 wounded.

At least seven cars parked near the center were destroyed by the blast in Irbil, a Kurdish city 220 miles north of Baghdad. Several nearby buildings were damaged.

Pools of blood formed on the street outside the center as ambulances and cabs raced to the chaotic scene to take casualties to hospitals.

The attack came as many civilians were applying for Iraqi police jobs at the recruitment center, said Capt. Mark Walter, the spokesman who provided the U.S. military death toll.

Police officer Shwan Mohammed first said that the attacker had set the explosives off inside the police center, but police Capt. Othman Aziz later said the attacker detonated them outside the building because of the heavy security there.

Iraqi civilian Hawra Mohammed, 37, said he had just dropped his brother Ahmed, 32, off at the center to apply for a job and driven away when the explosion occurred.

When Hawra raced back, he found his brother lying in a street, bleeding and unconscious. But Ahmed soon began to move.

"I lifted my brother onto my shoulders and took him to a nearby hospital," Hawra said in an interview. "The blood on my shirt is my brother's."

Hawra said he nearly fainted at the sight of dead bodies outside the recruitment center and that many of the victims were unemployed, just like his brother, and wanted to earn money as policemen.

The attack appeared to be the deadliest by insurgents in Iraq since Feb. 28, when a suicide car bomber struck a crowd of police and national guard recruits outside a medical clinic in Hillah, south of the capital. That attack, which killed 110 people and wounded 133, was the single deadliest in the insurgency.

Militants have stepped up their attacks across Iraq in the last week, often targeting convoys of U.S. and Iraqi troops, and Iraqi police on patrol or at recruitment centers. A key goal of U.S. troops is to eventually train enough Iraqi security forces to reduce the role now being played by the Americans in fighting the insurgency.

Including Wednesday's bombing, some 200 people have been killed in insurgent attacks since last week's approval of a partial Cabinet that largely shut out Sunnis Arabs.

Elsewhere, the U.S. military said Wednesday that two American soldiers were killed in separate roadside bomb attacks in Baghdad the day before. Little information was immediately available.

In Baghdad, two legislators from Iraq's Kurdish and Sunni minorities condemned the attack in Irbil. Kurdish legislator Fouad Massoum blamed it on insurgent groups such as Ansar al-Islam, which operates in the Kurdish enclave, and Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be linked with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida.

"This is a horrible crime and a massacre," Massoum said in an interview outside the National Assembly. "Cooperation between the people and the security forces is necessary to fight terrorists like al-Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam, who are the enemies of Iraq."

Mohsin al-Jarwa, the Sunni Arab lawmaker, said: "This is an inhuman operation, killing the sons of the land who were coming to protect Iraq. I don't believe those who carried this out were Iraqis. Iraqis don't kill Iraqis, and I strongly condemn this terrorist act."

An Australian task force arrived in Baghdad to work for the release of Douglas Wood, a kidnapped Australian citizen and a resident of California who has an American wife. In a televised interview on the al-Jazeera TV network, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer appealed for the release of Wood, saying the 63-year-old engineer had a serious heart condition.

On Tuesday, the first democratically elected government in the history of Iraq was sworn in, and the new Shiite prime minister pledged before a half-empty parliament that he would unite the country's rival ethnic factions and fight terrorism.

Still, despite months of tortuous negotiations, there was no final decision on seven positions in the 37-member Cabinet, including the key oil and defense ministries.

More important, the partial Cabinet fails to give the country's disaffected Sunni Arab minority, believed to be driving the insurgency, a meaningful governing stake.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari resumed months of behind-the-scenes talks aimed at resolving the dispute among Sunnis and Shiites over the outstanding Cabinet portfolios.

Many lawmakers skipped Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony, which took place in a conference hall deep within Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Those absent included the government's most senior Sunni member, Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer.

The Cabinet that took office includes 16 Shiite Arabs, nine Kurds, four Sunnis and one Christian. Two deputy prime minister slots - including one Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari hopes to offer to a woman - were left vacant, and five ministerial portfolios are in temporary hands.

Al-Jaafari played down the disputes still roiling his government more than three months after millions of Iraqis risked their lives to vote in landmark parliamentary elections on Jan. 30. He blamed the delay in filling the Cabinet on Sunni infighting and said the matter would be resolved in two to three days.

"But we are not in a hurry," he told reporters after Tuesday's ceremony. "We want the choice to be accepted by all the Iraqi people."

Al-Jaafari's government has less than eight months left to complete its main tasks: draft a new constitution by mid-August and submit it to a referendum no later than Oct. 15. If approved, new elections must be held by Dec. 15, under Iraq's transitional law.

Al-Jaafari pledged to get to work confronting the "heavy legacy" left by Saddam Hussein - a country afflicted by poverty, corruption and mass graves.

"This government belongs to the Iraqi people," he said. "Iraqis will reap the fruits of their sacrifices. These sacrifices have not gone in vain."

 

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