Bomber kills 46 Iraqis, Americans get blame

Shiites turn against U.S. amid growing despair

February 12, 2004|By Matthew McAllester | Matthew McAllester,NEWSDAY

BAGHDAD - The day before, the bombers had struck applicants to the Iraqi police. Yesterday, it was the turn of men lining up to join the new Iraqi army.

The effect of the suicide bombings was almost identical: Scores killed, fury directed at the occupying forces and a despair expressed among many that Iraq's security is only worsening as the proposed handover to a new Iraqi government inches closer.

"The Americans did it," said one wounded applicant, Hussein Raed, 20, as he lay in a bed at Yarmuk Hospital in Baghdad. "Can you imagine the Iraqis would do this to Iraqis? This is political. They want to control the country. They suspect that the new army would be against them."

While not, perhaps, a very credible theory, it was a common theme among survivors of the attack yesterday that killed at least 46 and the one Tuesday in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, where a huge bomb killed more than 50 people, most of them applicants for police jobs.

[Early today, a roadside bomb killed two American soldiers in Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. The blast went off last evening in a western neighborhood of the capital, killing the soldiers from the Army's 1st Armored Division, a spokesman for the U.S. command said.

[The deaths bring to 374 the number of Americans who have been killed in hostile action since the beginning of military operations in Iraq. A total of at least 534 Americans have died, including non-combat deaths.]

What made Raed's comments bode especially ill for the immediate future of his country is that he, like most people in Iskandariyah, is a Shiite Muslim.

Interviews with scores of Iraqi Shiites in the past week - in the aftermath of the two bombings and also in calmer settings - suggest a growing cynicism within their community about the U.S. effort in Iraq.

It is Iraq's Sunnis who have so far been most hostile to the American forces. Iraq's top Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has insisted on direct elections in June to choose the new government. The United States wants regional caucuses, saying Iraq is not yet sufficiently peaceful to prevent widespread violence during an election.

With a team of experts from the United Nations assessing the situation in Iraq now, the bombings of the past two days appear to damage greatly the chances that the U.N. group will agree with Sistani and support elections.

Neither Iraqi officials nor the U.S. military provides comprehensive figures on Iraqi casualties nationwide.

Iraq's Interior Ministry said in a statement that 46 people died and 54 were wounded in yesterday's explosion, while the U.S.-led coalition said 47 were killed and 55 wounded.

U.S. military officials said the attack was the work of a suicide bomber in a white 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra carrying 300 to 500 pounds of explosives.

"I was standing in line to get the application form," said Raed, whose black hair and mustache were singed orange by the blast. "When I got the form, they told me to go in the other line next to the street. It was a white car, and it stopped at the end of the line and then reversed toward us."

The center was surrounded by barbed wire and sandbags, but the men lining up outside were vulnerable to attack. Survivors complained that U.S. forces had left them exposed only a day after the Iskandariyah bombing had shown how easy it can be for suicide attackers to target recruitment centers for the new Iraqi security forces.

At Yarmuk Hospital, Saad Shilaga al-Haideri, 27, blamed "terrorists" who "have a conflict with the Americans. They don't want stability in Iraq."

Normally a laborer, al-Haideri was in the line when the bomber struck. Like other would-be recruits, he had lost all enthusiasm for joining one of the new Iraqi institutions that have become targets for insurgents.

"No, I won't try to join the army again," he said, his head in a bandage. "There is no benefit in joining. I survived this today. But tomorrow, who knows what would happen to me?"

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

DEADLY ATTACKS

Some of the deadly bombing attacks in Iraq since the war began March 20:

Feb. 11: A suicide attacker blows up a car packed with explosives in a crowd of Iraqis waiting outside an army recruiting center in Baghdad, killing 47 people.

Feb. 10: A suicide bomber explodes a truckload of explosives outside a police station in Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, killing 53 people.

Feb. 1: Suicide bombers kill 109 people in two Kurdish party offices in the northern city of Irbil.

Jan. 31: A car bomb outside a police station in the northern city of Mosul kills at least nine, wounds 45.

Jan. 18: Suicide car bombing near main gate to U.S.-led coalition's headquarters in Baghdad kills at least 18 people.

Jan. 17: Roadside bomb explodes near Baghdad, killing three U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi civil defense troopers.

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