Iraq attack leaves at least 13 dead

Suicide bomber targets army recruiting center as violence escalates

February 09, 2005|By Patrick J. McDonnell | Patrick J. McDonnell,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents attacked aspiring Iraqi security personnel for the second day yesterday, killing at least 13 people in an apparent suicide bombing that targeted a line of men outside an army recruiting center.

Some reports said the attacker killed as many as 21 people. However, officials at the capital's Yarmuk Hospital, where the dead and injured were taken, said 13 were killed and 13 wounded in the strike outside a former Iraqi military airbase.

Yesterday's attack, coming a day after bombings in the cities of Mosul and Baqubah, underscored the insurgents' apparent determination to press their campaign in the aftermath of Jan. 30 elections that are to lead to a new transitional government.

Rebels were unsuccessful in blocking the balloting amid tight security, despite a large number of attacks on election day.

"I wouldn't say anyone was thinking they [the insurgents] had given up," said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman here. "It's very difficult to predict what they'll do and when they'll do it."

Election results

As the attacks continue, Iraqi election officials tallying the ballots say complete results should be available later this week.

A Shiite Muslim slate of candidates is expected to win a majority of seats in the 275-member National Assembly that is charged with forming a transitional government and writing a permanent constitution.

Elsewhere in the capital yesterday, a politician who caused a stir when he visited Israel last year and called for normalization of relations with the Jewish state survived an assassination attempt.

`I was the target'

But the hail of gunfire from attackers killed his two sons and a bodyguard.

"I was the target of the attack, there is no doubt," Mithal Alusi, secretary-general of the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, was quoted as telling an Arabic-language network.

After the attack, a shaken Alusi was seen on television receiving an embrace of condolences from an American soldier. The U.S. military presence here is extremely controversial and it is unusual for Iraqi politicians to be photographed with the troops.

Outside the Muthana airfield, where yesterday morning's bomb detonated, onlookers observed what has become a numbingly familiar scene: screeching ambulances rushed to the site and U.S. and Iraqi forces sealed off the scene as black smoke rose into the sky.

Several witnesses said the culprit in yesterday's blast was a lone suicide bomber who walked into the line of recruits and detonated an explosive device.

"He [the bomber] had a long beard and was carrying a black suitcase with him," Fouad Hessian, 23, who suffered shrapnel wounds on his head and legs, said from his hospital bed. "I felt that something was strange about this man so I ran away quickly. ... I could have been killed."

Third attack at center

It was at least the third time the recruiting center had been attacked.

Despite the daily killings of security men here, there are no shortage of recruits in a nation where more than half of all young men are believed to be unemployed.

Officials have moved lines of would-be police and soldiers further away from such insurgent targets as fortified bases, but the recruits themselves have remained relatively easy to attack. Many job applicants were among the 15 killed Monday when a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle outside the gates of a police station in Baqubah, a restive city northeast of the capital.

Lone bomber

Yesterday's blast was apparently the work of a lone suicide bomber on foot.

Insurgents here have deployed many such bombers, often wearing explosives-laden vests, along with the scores of car bombers whose payloads are much larger.

"We never expected someone to come walking in and blow himself up," said Jewad Najy, a 27-year-old member of the Iraqi National Guards who was injured in yesterday's bombing. "This happened before the checkpoint, before anyone could search him."

Among the injured was Raid Mohammed, a 20-year-old recruit from the city of Karbala, who said he had been coming to the center for a month in an effort to complete his application.

Mohammed said he arrived at 7 a.m. and waited outside the gates of the base until about 10:30 a.m. when the explosion occurred.

"It was a very long line and many of us were waiting for a long time," Mohammed said from his hospital bed, where he was in great pain from a lacerating wound on his right cheek among other injuries.

"I was about to finish my application today," he said. "I never expected to be lying here in the hospital."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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