Suicide car bomb kills 44 in Bagdad
A suicide car bomb exploded at an Iraqi army recruitment center in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 44 people and taking the 24-hour death toll in attacks against Iraqis working with the US occupation close to 100.
"It was a suicide attack by a single male," US Colonel Ralph Baker said at the scene. Most of the victims were newly recruited soldiers reporting for duty.
Major John Frisbie put the death toll at least 36, including the bomber, with 15 more wounded, but hospitals later said they had received 44 dead and 35 wounded.
Around 50 people were killed on Tuesday in a similar attack on Iraqis outside a police station south of Baghdad.
The police force and new army are central to Washington's plan to hand over power to Iraqis by June 30.
The U.S. military said Wednesday's attack occurred at around 7:40 a.m. (0440 GMT) when a car drove into the new Iraqi army facility in central Baghdad and exploded.
"We were standing in line waiting to start our shift in the new army and we saw a white car drive by us and then blow up. Many died. There were about 400 people in line," said Ghassan Samir, one of four wounded at Yarmuk hospital.
US troops cordoned off the area known as Muthana Airport, a small air facility abandoned for decades but recently used by the new Iraqi army. Heavy rain and wind buffeted emergency workers, investigators and soldiers as they did the grim work of cleaning up and documenting the explosion.
"I was driving and just 10 meters in front of me, a car was driving slowly, suddenly he exploded...I hit a tree," said Mohammad Jassim, as he dabbed at small cuts on his head with a blood-dappled rag.
The attacks followed a pattern of targeting Iraqis seen as collaborating with the U.S. occupation. Twin suicide bombings in northern Iraq against two Kurdish parties allied with the United States killed more than 100 people on February 1.
Tuesday's suicide car bomb exploded among civilians queuing outside a police station in the town of Iskandariya, 25 miles south of the capital, to apply for jobs. At least 75 people were wounded and the police station and an adjacent court were badly damaged.
Iraqi officials say 300 policemen -- who have been regular targets of suicide bombings -- have been killed by insurgents. The U.S.-trained force is a pillar of U.S. plans to put Iraqis in charge of security before a transfer of sovereignty.
"If the Iraqis don't join the police and army, that means we are saying to the Americans: 'Stay here forever'," Haitham Imad, a 29-year-old army recruit who survived Wednesday's blast, said.
IMPOSSIBLE TO DEFEND
"It's impossible to defend in every location against every conceivable kind of attack at every time of the day or night," Defense Secretary Ronald Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington after Tuesday's blast.
At the same briefing, Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was optimistic about security despite the attack.
"We continue to be optimistic about the situation on the ground in Iraq." There has been "a lot of success," Myers said, in bringing stability and security to Iraq ahead of the June 30 target date for handing over power to an Iraqi government.
Rumsfeld said between 150,000 and 210,000 Iraqis were working in the security forces, and were getting better at it all the time.
"That does not mean that there will not be people that are killed. I mean, look at any city on the face of the earth. Everyone's against homicide. And yet in every...major city on the face of the earth, homicides occur every week. Hundreds occur every year in every city.
"Now, why if we have all those policemen, why if we have everyone against homicides, do they still occur? The answer is because human beings are human beings."
The bombings came after U.S. officials in Iraq said an Islamic militant with links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was plotting to ignite a civil war to undermine efforts to hand over power to Iraqis.
But Myers said on Tuesday the letter's authenticity was still being evaluated. "I haven't read it. I don't know if it's authentic. People who've read it think it is," Rumsfeld added.
US troops said on Monday they had seized a computer disk containing a letter from Abu Musab Zarqawi, linked by the United States to Ansar al-Islam, outlining plans to destabilize Iraq.
The United States says the group, which operates in northern Iraq, is affiliated to al Qaeda.