- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2012

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber blew up his car Sunday as a group of police recruits left their academy in Baghdad, killing 20 in the latest strike on security officials that angry residents blame on political feuding that is roiling Iraq.

Police said the suicide bomber was waiting on the street outside the fortified academy near the Interior Ministry in an eastern neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.

As the crowd of recruits exited the compound’s security barriers around 1 p.m. and walked into the road, police said the bomber drove toward them and blew up his car.

Five policemen were among the dead; the rest were recruits. Another 28 recruits and policemen were wounded.

Iraq’s police are generally considered to be the weakest element of the country’s security forces, which are attacked nearly every day.

The last big assault on police came in October, when 25 people were killed in a string of attacks that included two bombers slamming explosives-packed cars into police stations.

Recruits, too, are a favorite target. Suicide bombers killed scores of young men lined up for security jobs at training centers in Baghdad and the northern city of Tikrit in recent years.

The public outcry that followed from lawmakers and residents after those attacks spurred the government to bolster training and recruiting centers with better protection.

But as Sunday’s attacks showed, extremists are easily able to sidestep security measures.

At Baghdad’s police academy, recruits generally are escorted out of the compound to ensure their safety. But once they get to the street outside, they are on their own.

Shiite lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, who sits on parliament’s security and defense committee, said the academy’s officials should have been more careful about letting the recruits leave at the same time every day. He said that was a pattern that insurgents easily noted.

He blamed al Qaeda for launching the attack but raised the possibility that it aimed to ramp up bitterness among Iraqis already exasperated with ongoing political fighting that has consumed the government for weeks.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but suicide attacks are a hallmark of al Qaeda.

The terror group’s potency in Iraq has waned since its heyday five years ago, when the country teetered on the brink of civil war.

But last week, Iraqi and U.S. officials acknowledged al Qaeda remains a viable threat, noting fears that local fighters in the Sunni-dominated insurgent network are shifting to Syria to aid forces opposing the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Some of Baghdad’s residents said Sunday’s attack likely was rooted in political turbulence that has shaken Iraq in recent weeks.

A judicial panel last week said that at least 150 attacks and assassinations since 2005 were linked to Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunni official.

The charges against Mr. al-Hashemi, who has sought haven from arrest in the autonomous northern Kurdish region, were first brought in December by the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Mr. al-Hashemi has denied the charges and is expected to give a speech in coming days to defend himself.

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