July 28, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide car bomb exploded outside a police recruiting center in central Baqouba on Wednesday, killing 68 Iraqis and turning the city's busy streets into a bloody tangle of twisted metal and bodies.
The attack, which killed 21 people inside a passing bus, was the deadliest bombing in Iraq since the United States transferred sovereignty to an interim government June 28.
The bombing was part of an intense surge in violence over the past 24 hours: 35 insurgents and seven Iraqi police were killed in clashes southeast of Baghdad, a U.S. soldier was killed in a bomb attack, and a police officer was assassinated.
Iraqi officials - who said they expected attacks to intensify as the country tries to edge toward democracy - feared a key national conference scheduled for Saturday would be a major target for attack.
"The terrorists' goal is to hamper the police work, terrorize our citizens and show that the government is unable to protect the Iraqi people, and this will not happen," said Hamid al-Beyati, a deputy foreign minister.
The 10:13 a.m. bombing in Baqouba, a turbulent city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, shattered the bustling heart of a commercial district filled with shops, fruit stands, government buildings and the police station.
The street was filled with charred vehicles, pieces of glass, twisted metal and abandoned shoes, all covered in blood and human remains. Bodies lay in the middle of the road, under cars, up against nearby buildings. A white metal security gate outside a shop was stained red with blood. The white bus on which 21 passengers were killed was a charred husk.
"It's all civilian casualties at this stage," U.S. Army Capt. Marshall Jackson said.
Witnesses said the bomb targeted men waiting outside the al-Najda police station trying to sign up for the force.
"These were all innocent Iraqis, there were no Americans," on angry man shouted at the scene.
The blast killed 68 people and wounded 56 others, according to Saad al-Amili, a Health Ministry official.
The local hospital was overwhelmed with the casualties. Every bed was filled, forcing many of the injured to sit on the floor, amid pools of blood, as they were treated by frantic health workers. One injured man sat against the wall, holding his head in his hands and weeping.
The bombing was the deadliest insurgent attack in Iraq since June 24, when coordinated attacks in north and central Iraq killed 89 people, including three U.S. soldiers. On April 21, five suicide bombings near police stations and police academy in southern city of Basra killed 74 people and wound 160 others. A coordinated attack on Shiite Muslim shrines in Karbala and Baghdad on March 2 killed at least 181.
In other violence, 35 insurgents and seven Iraqi soldiers were killed in early morning clashes in the city of Suwariyah southeast of Baghdad, Polish Lt. Col. Artur Domanski, a multinational force spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
Another 10 soldiers from the Iraqi security forces were wounded in the joint operation with U.S. Army special forces and Ukrainian troops, he said. No coalition troops were injured in the operation that also led to the capture of 40 insurgents, he said.
A U.S. soldier was killed and three others injured late Tuesday when a roadside bomb severely damaged their armored Humvee while they were on patrol in the town of Balad-Ruz, about 65 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, according to army spokesman Master Sgt. Robert Powell.
The death of the soldier, whose identity has not been released, raised the toll of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq to 905 since the war began, according to an Associated Press tally.
A separate roadside bombing in Balad-Ruz late Tuesday injured nine Iraqi civilians, according to Baqouba General Hospital official Abbas Fadhil.
On Wednesday, an explosion tore through the densely populated Baghdad suburb of Rahmaniya, killing one person and injuring five, an Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Two cars were seen burning and a building was damaged in the area, located on the northern edge of Baghdad's Green Zone, the fortified enclave housing Iraq's interim government and the U.S. and British embassies.
A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that an explosion had been reported to the north of the Green Zone, but he was unaware of its source.
In the turbulent city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a mortar apparently fired toward a U.S. base struck an apartment building, killing one Iraqi woman and injuring seven other people, according to Dr. Alaa al-Aani from Ramadi hospital.
In the northern city of Kirkuk on Wednesday, gunmen in a car killed policeman Udai Saddam as he waited for a taxi to get to work, Iraqi police official Col. Sarhat Qadr said. The attackers fled the scene.
Qadr also said that two men trying to plant a bomb on an oil pipeline near Kirkuk were killed early Wednesday when it detonated prematurely. No damage was caused to the pipeline in the Kibrit region, about 28 miles northwest of Kirkuk, he said.
In another bombing in Baqouba, a car rigged with explosives detonated Tuesday evening, killing the driver, the U.S. military said.
Amid the violence, Iraq has been trying to take its first steps toward democratic reform.
A crucial national conference for 1,000 delegates to choose an interim assembly, widely considered a vital step toward democracy, will begin Saturday organizers announced Tuesday.
The conference, stipulated under a law enacted by the former U.S. occupation authority, was to have been concluded by the end of July, but it had to be delayed because preparations were behind schedule, conference chair Fuad Masoum said.
Iraq's persistent insurgency pushed a Jordanian company working for the U.S. military here to announce Tuesday it was withdrawing from Iraq to secure the release of two Jordanian employees kidnapped by militants.
Fayez Saad al-Udwan and Mohammad Ahmed Salama Hussein al-Manaya'a were abducted Monday by a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Corps in Iraq. The group warned the Jordanians would be killed within 72 hours unless their employer pulled out of the country and stopped cooperating with U.S forces.
The decision by Daoud and Partners - a private company providing construction and catering services to the U.S. military - came hours after al-Manaya'a's father threatened to "chop off the head" of the firm's chief executive if he did not comply.
Another militant cell, calling itself "The Group of Death," released a video statement saying it would close the highway linking Iraq to Jordan in 72 hours from 1 p.m. Tuesday in a bid to disrupt supply lines to U.S. forces. The group said it would also target Jordanian truckers bringing in goods to the country.
Militants have kidnapped more than 70 foreigners, mainly truck drivers, in recent months as part of the 15-month-old insurgency.