- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

BAGHDAD — A massive car bomb demolished a streetside market near a police recruiting station in the Iraqi capital yesterday, killing 47 persons and wounding at least 88 — most of them aspiring officers.

It was the capital’s deadliest explosion since March.

Another 11 Iraqi policemen died in a drive-by shooting in the Sunni triangle city of Baqouba, one of several enclaves that appears to be slipping out of the control of multinational forces and the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

In the north, a U.S. soldier was killed and five were wounded when their patrol came under attack in Mosul. Meanwhile, the country was without electricity for several hours after saboteurs bombed a critical oil pipeline station near Beiji.

The car bombing and shooting — the latest in violence that has killed nearly 150 people in three days — were part of an increasingly defiant campaign to bring the battle to Baghdad, sowing chaos in the center of authority for the Allawi government.

The attacks appear to have grown deadlier since Mr. Allawi’s interim government took power in June, despite U.S. claims that Iraqi security forces are showing more resolve against insurgents.

The mounting attacks aim to wreck the centerpiece of the U.S. plan for defeating the militants — building a strong Iraqi security force to calm the country before elections scheduled for January. Doing so is also a key prerequisite for any withdrawal of American troops.

The Baghdad car bomb, in a neighborhood populated mostly by former loyalists of deposed president Saddam Hussein, created dramatic scenes of carnage.

“Human beings were piled one on top of the other,” said Ahman Mohammad, a cherubic 20-year-old with burns on his face and arms, as he lay on a bloodstained bed at Karkh Hospital. “I’m all choked up with shock. I saw it with my own eyes.”

An Internet posting, purportedly from the group Tawhid and Jihad, which is led by Jordanian al Qaeda ally Abu Musab Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the blast and said it was carried out by a suicide bomber.

“With the grace of God, a lion from our martyrdom brigades was successful in striking a center for apostate police volunteers,” said the statement, which could not be verified. Zarqawi’s group has been responsible for many of the suicide bombs in Iraq, often using zealots from other Arab countries.

Despite clear evidence to the contrary, many witnesses and residents blamed the Americans for the attack, claiming an American helicopter had fired on the crowd much as a U.S. gunship killed more than a dozen Iraqis crowded around a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle on nearby Haifa Street on Sunday.

But the cheap unpolished, shrapnel from the blast indicated clearly that it was Iraqi-made ordnance, most likely leftovers from Saddam’s arsenal.

“This was a peaceful, modest lower-middle-class neighborhood where everyone cared about everyone,” raged Hossein Ali Hossein, a 41-year-old train driver who was sitting in a tea shop when the explosion occurred. “I was born here. This explosion has changed everything in this neighborhood forever.”

The wave of attacks on police recruiting stations has fueled a sense of frustration and fear among those hired to protect and serve Iraqis.

“These operations are carried out by people using the latest techniques in killing people,” said an Iraqi brigadier general who would identify himself only as “Amar” for fear of being targeted by insurgents. “If it was in our capacity to stop such things before they happened, I would even sacrifice myself for them.”

More than a dozen stores were destroyed by the explosion.

“There were some kids playing billiards,” said Ehsan Adnan, a distraught 38-year-old who runs a music shop badly damaged by the blast. “They were killed. There were young men waiting to join the police force. They were killed. There were customers in my shop. They died as well.”

He threw his broken drums and trumpets across his tiny shop. “Who can accept this?” he bellowed. “Does Jesus accept this? Does Moses accept this?”

Some men tried to turn the scene into a political rally, with one chanting, “Down with Allawi. Down with Bush.” But others shook their heads in disgust at those who blamed the attack on America instead of the insurgents.

“Some call them Wahhabis, others resistance. Some say the Americans are behind it,” said Al’a Hamas al-Tamimi, 31, who said he helped carry at least 40 wounded persons to cars and trucks. “I call them terrorists. They kill by the dozen. Is this human?”

Others railed that the United States and Iraq’s interim government should have done a better job protecting Iraqis from insurgents, or else remove potential targets of terrorism from the city.

“We blame the occupation forces and the Iraqi interim government for this explosion,” said Abdul Fareed. “We ask them to remove this police facility from this area because it’s a densely populated area.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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