Iraq explodes into violence

A car bomb ripped through a crowded line of shops and cafés near a police station in central Baghdad on Tuesday where many Iraqis had gathered to apply for jobs in the force, killing at least 47 people and wounding 114, officials said.

North-east of Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a van carrying police officers home from work, killing 11 officers and a civilian.

The attacks were the latest attempts by insurgents to disrupt United States-backed efforts to build a strong Iraqi police force capable of taking over security in many towns and cities ahead of nationwide elections slated for January.

In Baghdad, the blast left a gaping, 3m-wide crater and a trail of charred bodies, devastated buildings and gutted cars near the station on Haifa Street, an insurgent enclave that has been the scene of fierce clashes with US troops.

Paramedics and residents picked up body parts scattered across the street and put them into boxes. Anguished men lifted bodies burned beyond recognition and lay them gently on stretchers. Helicopters circled.

At least 47 people were killed and 114 wounded, Health Ministry spokesperson Saad Al-Amili said.
Hours later, another explosion echoed across the capital, but the blast was caused by an accident involving gasoline streetside vendors, police said. There was no word on casualties.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Colonel Adnan Abdel-Rahman said the bomb was placed inside a Toyota vehicle parked near the commercial hub, located a short distance down the road from the police station, which had been closed to traffic.

Mahdi Mohammed (30) was standing outside his barber shop when the explosion went off.

“It was a horrific scene. Seconds earlier people were drinking tea or eating sandwiches and then I could see their remains hanging from trees,” he said. “I could see burning people running in all directions.”

“This is a crime committed against innocent people who needed to find work to feed their hungry children,” said Alaa Khamas, a falafel vendor. He said he saw a man who had just bought a falafel from him killed by a flying car wheel.

Angry crowds of young men pumped their fists in the air and denounced US President George Bush and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, saying they have failed to protect Iraqis.

“Bush is a dog,” they chanted.

“Such places were targeted before,” said Ali Abul-Amir, who was among those trying to join the force but had gone around the corner to buy a drink when the explosion went off.

“I blame Ayad Allawi’s government for what happened because they did not take the necessary security measures,” he said.

Others, however, directed their anger at the militants.

“Such acts cannot be considered part of the resistance [against American forces]. This is not a jihad, they are not Mujahdeen,” said Amir Abdel Hassan, a 41-year-old teacher.

“Iraq is not a country, it’s a big graveyard,” he said.

In the eastern city of Baqouba, gunmen in two cars opened fire on Tuesday on a van carrying policemen home from work, killing 11 officers and a civilian, said Qaisar Hamid of Baqouba General hospital.

The incident occurred when the policemen were returning to their station after they were told that a trip to a training camp had been postponed, said a police officer on condition of anonymity.

Attacks on Iraqi security forces and police officers—considered collaborators by militants—have left hundreds of people dead since insurgents began a 17-month campaign to expel US-led forces and destabilise Allawi’s government.

Earlier this month, a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb outside a police academy in the northern city of Kirkuk as hundreds of trainees and civilians were leaving for the day, killing at least 20 people and wounding 36.

On July 28, a car bomb exploded outside a police recruiting centre in Baqouba, killing at least 68 people. A month earlier, a sports utility vehicle packed with artillery shells slammed into a crowd waiting to volunteer for the Iraqi military in Baghdad, killing 35.

In February, a suicide attacker targeted another army recruiting centre in Baghdad, killing 47. Days earlier, 53 people were killed in a similar attack south of the capital.

Meanwhile, saboteurs on Tuesday blew up a junction where multiple oil pipelines cross the Tigris River in northern Iraq, setting off a chain reaction in power generation systems that left the entire country without power, officials said.

Firefighters struggled to put out the blaze after the attack near Beiji, 250km north of Baghdad. Crude oil cascaded down the hillside into the river. Fire burned atop the water, fuelled by the gushing oil.

Beiji is the point where several oil pipelines converge, said Lieutenant Colonel Lee Morrison of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

One of them apparently was a domestic pipeline that fed a local power plant. The explosion set off a fire that melted cables and led to the power outage, electricity officials said.

“Beiji is the chokepoint,” Morrison said. “It’s so easy to hit.”

The 3am attack came soon after engineers had completed a two-month project to install two critical valves that had been damaged in an earlier blast.

Also on Tuesday, the military said two American soldiers were killed and three others wounded when they came under attack on Monday from an improvised explosive device and small arms fire in Baghdad.

The military said in a statement that troops belonged to the army’s Task Force Baghdad. The dead soldiers’ names were withheld pending family notification.

More than 1 000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the start of military operations in March 2003, according to an Associated Press tally based on Department of Defence figures.

Tuesday’s car bombing came a day after US warplanes launched air strikes on a suspected hideout where operatives from an al-Qaeda-linked group were meeting in Fallujah, killing 20 people.—Sapa-AP

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