Nine dead in Baghdad car bomb attack

At least nine people were killed when a huge car bomb exploded outside a police station in Baghdad on Monday in a near daily scene of chaos and bloodshed for the newly-sovereign Iraq.

The latest attack capped a week of at least seven car bombings that have left scores of people dead and injured, throwing up a huge challenge for the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi which took power just three weeks ago.

But as smoke once more billowed into the Baghdad sky, Allawi flew out of the country for a two-week trip around the region—his first foreign outing since taking office.

The suspected suicide blast, at a police car park in the southern Al-Dora district filled with about 50 shiny new police cars, punched a huge crater into the earth and left mangled pieces of metal strewn across the street.

Sirens blaring, ambulances sped in and out of the area ferrying the many wounded and dead.

Police officer Haitham Salman described seeing a “car, with one person at the wheel, tearing into the car park before exploding”.

Another policeman said the vehicle was a small tanker but he did not know whether it had been carrying fuel.

The explosion ripped through a thin roof that covered a line of police vehicles at the edge of the car park, but the police station itself sustained only minor damage.

Smoke billowed into the air as the injured lay dazed, waiting to be taken to the nearby Yarmuk hospital where police officers were forced to fire their guns into the air to stop grieving relatives from flooding the building.

“The toll is nine dead and 60 injured, 25 of them seriously,” said doctor Shihab Amhed, who works in a central department at the health ministry that collects tolls from Iraqi hospitals.

At least one of the dead was said to be a policemen.

Just 10 minutes after the bombing, insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a fire station near the heavily-fortified compound that houses much of the US-led foreign presence in Baghdad, wounding one person, a US military spokesperson said.

Allawi has insisted that the security situation in the country is improving with more police checkpoints on the streets and numerous successful raids in recent days that have netted hundreds of criminals and stockpiles of weapons.

But attacks targeting Iraq’s new security forces as well as ministry officials, continue to grab headlines and cast doubt in the public’s mind about the ability of their administration to end the 15-month insurgency that bred during the US-led occupation.

For the next fortnight, however, the prime minister’s attention will be focused on mending fences with other countries in the region as he begins a tour of the Middle East.

Allawi’s first destination is Jordan where he is due to meet Prime Minister Faisal al-Faisal, but he also is due to visit a number of other countries including Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

As Iraq, which regained sovereignty exactly three weeks ago, struggles to revamp its image on the international stage, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced the appointment of 43 ambassadors.

The prime minister also leaves behind an ongoing hostage drama as the remains of the Philippines’ tiny military force in Iraq is due to leave on Monday to save the life of kidnapped truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.

Despite bowing to the hostage-takers’ demands to pull out early—a move that sparked criticism from the United States and Iraq—there was no fresh news on the whereabouts of the 46-year-old father of eight.

There was also no news on a kidnapped Egyptian and a Bulgarian truck driver.

The latest bombing came one day after US aircraft, with permission from Allawi, pounded a suspected hideout of people linked to Islamic extremist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, in Fallujah, killing 14 people.

Zarqawi, who has a 25-million-dollar bounty on his head, offered his own $285 000 reward for the death of Allawi, according to a reported message posted on an Islamist website. - Sapa-AFP

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