Fatal attacks target Iraqi police, recruits

Suicide bombs at stations, checkpoint part of violent surge aimed at authorities

July 03, 2005|By Aamer Madhani | Aamer Madhani,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Sitting in a hospital bed with a leg fractured by shrapnel from a suicide bombing, Iraqi police Sgt. Ali Abdul al-Rahdi said the police had hoped to outwit the insurgency by quietly calling for new recruits to sign up on Saturday, a day the country's government offices typically are closed.

The insurgents were not fooled.

A suicide attacker detonated an explosives-laden vest strapped to his body yesterday while standing among a crowd of recruits in central Baghdad. The blast killed at least 20 people, according to hospital officials. Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, put the death toll at 12 and said that 14 others were wounded.

"There was a water tap near the gate where many of the men gathered while they were waiting for the center to be opened," said al-Rahdi, a member of the police commando unit and chief of guards for the recruitment center. "I kept telling the men not to all stand in one area because I worried that someone might attack."

In a statement posted on the Internet, al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a similar attack, a suicide bomber detonated a belt of explosives at a police checkpoint in the mostly Shiite city of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, police Capt. Muthana Khalid Ali told the Associated Press. The blast killed six police officers, Ali said.

About 10 minutes later, a second suicide attacker blew himself up in a crowd of police and civilians who had rushed to the scene of the first explosion, Ali said, injuring 26 people.

A bomb housed in a parked car also exploded near a police station in the New Baghdad section of the capital yesterday. Nine people were wounded, including two policemen, officials said.

Militants detonated a bomb near a mosque in Mahmoudiya, a city south of Baghdad in an area that the U.S. military refers to as "the Triangle of Death." Two people were killed and nine others were injured, according to Iraq's Defense Ministry.

Officials at Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital, which treated many of the casualties, said the bomb was hidden in a vegetable cart in a crowded marketplace. Mourners carrying the coffin of Kamal Ezz al-Deen al-Ghuraifi were reportedly passing through the area when the bomb exploded.

Al-Ghuraifi, who was an aide to Shiite spiritual leader Ali al-Sistani, was assassinated as he left his mosque Friday. The mourners were carrying his body to the holy city of Najaf, where he was to be buried.

In the northern city of Mosul, a high-ranking police officer was shot to death yesterday morning as he drove to work, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marine commanders in western Iraq announced yesterday that they were investigating the June 25 death of a cousin of Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations.

Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie charged that U.S.-led forces killed his 21-year-old cousin, Mohammed al-Sumaidaie, during a recent counterinsurgency sweep in western Anbar province, the AP reported. The ambassador said his unarmed cousin was shot without cause when he took Marines into a bedroom to show them where a rifle with no ammunition was kept.

The surge of violence yesterday broke a string of relatively peaceful days. While there had been several assassinations of political and Shiite religious figures over the past week, there had been a lull in suicide bombings, which are considered the most precise and deadly weapon of the insurgency, until the attacks in Baghdad and Hillah.

Yesterday's bombing was at least the third time in the past several months that the recruitment center in Baghdad's Yarmouk district was the target of suicide attackers or car bombs, al-Rahdi said.

Al-Rahdi had escaped the previous bombings uninjured, but was only about 15 yards from the bomber yesterday, he said.

The bomber's face was too dark to be an Iraqi, according to al-Rahdi.

"I want to die defending the honor of my country," al-Rahdi said. "These terrorists deserve no mercy."

In another wing of the hospital, Rahman Essa, 24, lay waiting for surgery to have shrapnel removed from his abdomen. Essa had come to the recruiting center with a friend in hopes of landing a job.

"I was standing there waiting, and it felt like the blast came from behind me," Essa said.

Out of earshot from Essa, his older brother, Nissam Essa, told visitors that a friend was hit by shrapnel in the head and died at the scene.

Nissam Essa, who works with the Iraqi police major crimes unit, said his brother had become frustrated with the security situation in Baghdad, so he encouraged him to apply for a job with the police to help change the country's plight.

Attacks like the one outside the recruitment center have occurred periodically throughout the upheaval in Iraq as insurgents have persistently targeted Iraqi security forces in an attempt to keep the country from stabilizing.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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