Suicide bombings in Baghdad, Tikrit kill at least 21, wound 73

Attackers target police in Hussein's hometown

April 25, 2005|By James Janega | James Janega,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

TIKRIT, Iraq - Sgt. Anthony Ramos picked himself off the ground and fired a full magazine at the corner where yesterday morning's second suicide car bomber had come from, in case there were more.

Then he sank to his knees, a heavy metal fragment lodged in his elbow guard, his breath stolen by the blast, and a second U.S. soldier sprinted up the block to pull him to safety by a strap on his vest.

Around him, four Iraqi policemen and two civilians were dead, in addition to the suicide bomber. A block away and a half-hour before, another suicide bomber had driven into the Iraqi provincial police academy and detonated his vehicle, wounding more than two dozen officers and members of their families.

The Tikrit bombings and two other suicide blasts in Baghdad left 21 dead and 73 wounded yesterday, reflecting a recent upsurge in violence. The weekend death toll was at least 38, including three Americans.

A few hours after the Tikrit bombings, Ramos, 29, of Hartford, Conn., listened to Puerto Rican rap music on his laptop and recalled the blast: "It was like the movies. Just a big flaming ball coming at you."

The attacks in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, indicated that insurgents knew something of the workings of the northern city's police force.

The first bombing apparently had been timed to hit 250 Iraqi police officers and family members. The police were gathering to leave Tikrit for two weeks of advanced training in Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Todd Wood, whose 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment responded to the first blast.

The first car, a white four-door sedan, had been stopped by Iraqi guards before it entered the police compound, but detonated close enough to a guardhouse and people milling in the compound to wound dozens in a thunderous boom that rattled windows a mile away.

"It wasn't successful, but it could have been," Wood said. "They obviously had a good idea of the potential target that was there. They had spent some time scouting. They hit it at the most likely place to cause mass casualties."

The second attack seemed aimed at ambulance drivers and U.S. soldiers responding to the first bomb. That tactic, which has been used before, almost worked, too, Ramos said.

A platoon of American soldiers had raced to the scene after the first blast.

To guard the ambulances, Capt. Sam Donnelly, 29, of Roanoke, Va., posted Humvees on the street to the north and south of the police academy entrance.

But Ramos saw a side street was still open. He flagged down Iraqi SWAT team members and had them park their cars halfway up the block, next to an alley. Two minutes later, the second suicide bomber arrived.

Ramos watched the white station wagon creep into the alley, then found himself face to face with a suicide bomber.

"He saw me," Ramos said. "He got a good look at me, and I got a good look at him."

An Iraqi SWAT officer saw the vehicle, drew his pistol and fired two shots through the windshield. Ramos said the driver's eyes grew wide. Then the man - clean-cut, dark hair, dark robes - stepped on the accelerator and sped toward the roadblock. More people began shooting at the car, but it wouldn't stop.

A few yards from the roadblock, it exploded. The shock wave flattened the crowd. The Iraqi with the pistol flew over Ramos' head. A second SWAT member was hammered by his car door swinging shut. The remnants of the station wagon flew into the air. Ramos said something hit him in the arm and spun him to the asphalt. A wall of orange flames spread toward him.

A block away, Donnelly heard the second blast, and Americans started running to where Ramos had been. Spec. Colt Wilhelm, 21, of Hudson, Ind., got to him first, dragging Ramos away as the sergeant tried to reload but collapsed.

Later, he found a twisted chunk of metal the size of a flashlight battery in his elbow pad. His arm was barely scratched.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari had decided, members of his political bloc said, to shun further attempts to include members of the party headed by Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite politician who had served as prime minister as the country prepared for elections Jan. 30.

Members of Allawi's Iraqi List, which controls 40 seats in the National Assembly, said his party had not been officially informed of the development. Allawi loyalists were bidding for at least four ministries, including a senior government post and a deputy premiership.

Al-Jaafari's list could be put before parliament as early as today, some in his bloc said. Others indicated that the Cabinet announcement would be made tomorrow. Many such forecasts have proven wrong.

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

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