- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

BAGHDAD — A bomber blew himself up in the middle of a crowd of army recruits yesterday, killing 21 other persons and highlighting a recent shift by terrorists to use human bombs instead of cars.

Terrorists are strapping explosives on the bodies of volunteers to penetrate the network of blast walls, checkpoints and other security measures designed to block vehicle bombs.

Several such attackers tried to disrupt voting in Baghdad on election day but were unable to get into polling stations. On Monday, a suicide bomber walked into a crowd of Iraqi policemen in the northern city of Mosul and detonated explosives, killing 12 of them.

Iraqi authorities initially said the Baghdad recruiting center was attacked by mortar fire, but witnesses reported only a single explosion and the U.S. military said the blast was caused by a suicide bomber on foot.

Attacks have risen steadily since the Jan. 30 elections, when a massive U.S. and Iraqi security operation prevented insurgents from disrupting the vote. Those measures, including a ban on most private vehicles, border closures and an extended curfew, were relaxed soon afterward.

An Internet statement posted yesterday in the name of an al Qaeda affiliate led by Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi took responsibility for the attack on the recruiting center.

“This is the beginning of the escalation we promised you,” the statement said. Its source could not be verified.

Insurgents in recent months have stepped up their offensive against Iraq’s police and security forces, at a time when U.S. military planners are trying to shift more of the security burden onto the Iraqis. The indigenous forces are less well-trained, well-armed and well-protected than U.S. and other multinational troops.

Three Iraqi policemen were killed yesterday in clashes in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliya, one of the most dangerous districts of the capital and the scene of numerous gunbattles and assassinations in the past six months.

Election workers are still counting ballots for the 275-member national assembly, 18 provincial councils and a regional parliament for the Kurdish self-governing region in the north.

No new results were announced yesterday, but a coalition of Kurdish parties is in second place — raising the possibility that Shi’ites and Kurds might share power and even open the way for a Kurdish president. Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani has announced his candidacy for president.

Officials expect a final count by the end of the week.

Partial results released Monday showed the ticket of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, falling to third place among the 111 candidate lists. A Shi’ite-dominated ticket endorsed by Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, led with about half the votes, followed by the coalition of Kurdish parties.

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