Bomb kills dozens of children in Iraq

Youngsters had gathered at Humvee to receive candy

American soldier among dead

July 14, 2005|By Borzou Daragahi and Raheem Salman | Borzou Daragahi and Raheem Salman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The American soldiers had come yesterday morning to search for explosives in a neighborhood packed with children.

Instead, a suicide bomber found them.

In the deadliest insurgent attack in Iraq in more than two months, and the most lethal involving children since September, an explosives-filled SUV killed at least 27 Iraqis and a U.S. soldier.

About two dozen of the dead were youngsters who had been playing near U.S. soldiers at an impromptu checkpoint in Jadida, a lower-class residential district of low-lying buildings and rotting water mains populated by Shiites, Sunnis and Christians.

The children were taking candy from the soldiers when the bomb went off.

At least 25 Iraqis and three American soldiers were also injured in what was the deadliest attack since a May 4 suicide bombing that killed 60 Iraqis at a police recruitment center in the northern city of Irbil.

The bombing yesterday inflicted the most casualties on children since a Sept. 30 attack by several suicide bombers that killed three dozen children crowded around U.S. soldiers dispensing candy at a water treatment plant in southern Baghdad.

Elsewhere in the capital, gunmen killed a police officer and a soldier in the Bayaa neighborhood, and a rash of mysterious multiple killings, often seen as tit-for-tat sectarian violence, continued.

Police in Baghdad said they discovered the bodies of 13 Sunni Arab men who, according to Sunni religious authorities, had been arrested by police.

Later yesterday, police reported the discovery of 10 more corpses with signs of torture in eastern Baghdad. The dead men were without identification.

Yesterday's attack followed a suicide bombing Sunday at a police recruitment center in Baghdad that killed at least 22 people and ended a brief lull in deadly attacks in the capital.

Yesterday afternoon, near the charred, shrapnel-scarred bombing scene, women draped in black abayas wept as they walked across a street strewn with scraps of children's clothes and mangled car parts. Dazed children with tears in their eyes wandered amid scattered bits of metal and bloody human remains. A pile of children's slippers lay on the street.

"My cousin Mustafa was killed," said 11-year-old Mohammed Nouredin, gesturing at a blackened engine block and other debris in the middle of the street. "That is part of his bicycle."

The child's coffin was sent within hours to Najaf, the traditional burial ground for Iraqi Shiites, the cousin said.

U.S. soldiers attached to the Army's 3rd Infantry Division had descended on the neighborhood as part of a "cordon-and-search" operation, following up a tip that an improvised explosive device was in the area, said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class David Abrams, an army spokesman.

Iraqi children, eyeing the helmet- and flak-jacket-clad soldiers in armored Humvees, approached a group at a checkpoint on the edge of the neighborhood and began pleading for candy, witnesses said.

The soldiers first shooed them away but eventually relented, handing out sweets and drawing a larger crowd of children.

At that point, witnesses said, the suicide bomber drove an SUV toward the crowd and detonated it. The explosion sent a fireball across the intersection, destroying several houses and shattering windows throughout the neighborhood.

Grief and trauma overwhelmed residents of the nondescript neighborhood.

"You see this street?" said Osama Khalaf Sayen, whose home was damaged in the bombing. "From each house a child died."

Two of the wounded children were taken to a hospital by the Americans, a news release said. The rest of the injured and dead were transported to Baghdad's Kindi Hospital by residents in minivans.

A gray-bearded man in a flowing white dishdasha robe wept as he looked upon his son's coffin. "Today is the burial day," he wailed. "Today we will bury you, son."

Some in the neighborhood continued to seek out missing children well into the afternoon. Ferhan Khalid said his family had yet to find two of his nephews.

"We do not know what to do," said Khalid, 34, who was sitting with relatives at a house badly damaged by the explosion. "We searched the hospitals. We could not find them among the dead. Our only hope is that they are among those injured taken by the Americans."

In the emergency ward at Kindi Hospital, workers washed blood off stretchers. Relatives placed dead children in simple wooden coffins illustrated with Quranic verses.

"Their bodies are tender," said Nazar Hatim, who helped take a dozen injured children to the hospital. "Just the force of the explosion hurts them."

Relatives of the victims expressed scorn for U.S. soldiers as well as for the suicide bomber who carried out the attack.

"What was the guilt of these innocent children?" said Abbas Zair, a 47-year-old high school teacher whose 11-year-old nephew, Ammar, was slain. "Why could [the bomber] not delay having his lunch with the Prophet Muhammad for a few minutes and commit the act against the American soldiers?"

Sayen, the man whose house was badly damaged, bemoaned the fact that human remains still lay on the street hours after the bombing. Atrocities have become so common, he said, "now nobody even bothers to collect the body parts."

In Diala province northeast of Baghdad, gunmen killed Col. Shaalan Abdul Jalel, commander of an elite rapid intervention force commando unit.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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