- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq — A suicide bomber blew up a truckload of explosives yesterday outside a police station south of Baghdad, killing up to 53 and wounding scores, including would-be Iraqi recruits lined up to apply for jobs.

The blast in this predominantly Shi’ite city followed the disclosure Monday of a letter from an anti-American operative to al Qaeda’s leadership asking for help in attacking the Shi’ites in an effort to undermine the U.S.-run coalition and the future Iraqi government.

Many angry townspeople blamed the Americans for the blast, and Iraqi police had to fire weapons in the air to disperse dozens of Iraqis who stormed the shattered remains of the station hours after the explosion.

“This missile was fired from a U.S. aircraft,” said Hadi Mohy Ali, 60. “The Americans want to tear our unity apart.”

No U.S. or other coalition forces were hurt, said Lt. Col. Dan Williams, a military spokesman in Baghdad.

It was at least the eighth vehicle bombing in Iraq this year and followed warnings from coalition officials that insurgents would step up attacks against Iraqis who work with the U.S.-led coalition, especially ahead of the planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty to a provisional Iraqi government.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry and the local police chief said the bombing was carried out by a suicide driver who detonated a red pickup truck at razor-wire and sandbagged security barricades in front of the station.

However, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition’s deputy chief of operations, said it was not clear whether the bombing was the work of a suicide bomber or whether the vehicle had been parked and then detonated.

The U.S. military command reported 35 dead and 75 wounded but said Iraqi authorities were handling the investigation and the figures might be higher.

Razaq Jabbar, a local hospital director, put the number at 53 dead and 60 wounded, all thought to be Iraqis.

Insurgents have mounted a string of car and suicide bombings in recent weeks. The deadliest was in the northern city of Irbil on Feb. 1, when two bombers blew themselves up at two Kurdish party offices celebrating a Muslim holiday, killing at least 109 persons.

No group took responsibility for the bombing yesterday.

On Monday, U.S. officials said a letter seized last month from an al Qaeda courier asked the terrorist leadership to help foment civil war between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims to undermine the coalition and the future Iraqi leadership.

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