02-28-05 - HILLAH, Iraq - A suicide car bomber blasted a crowd of police and national guard recruits Monday as they gathered for physicals outside a medical clinic south of Baghdad, leaving at least 110 people dead and 133 injured — the single deadliest attack in the two-year insurgency.
Torn limbs and other body parts littered the street outside the clinic in Hillah, a predominantly Shiite area about 60 miles south of Baghdad.
Monday's blast outside the clinic was so powerful it nearly vaporized the suicide bomber's car, leaving only its engine partially intact. The injured were piled into pickup trucks and ambulances and taken to nearby hospitals.
Outside the concrete and brick building, people gingerly walked around small lakes of blood that pooled on the street. Scorch marks infused with blood covered the clinic's walls and dozens of people helped pile body parts, including arms, feet and limbs, into blankets. Piles of shoes and tattered clothes were thrown into a corner.
Angry crowds gathered outside the hospital chanting "Allah akbar," Arabic for "God is great," and demanded to know the fate of their relatives.
"I was lined up near the medical center, waiting for my turn for the medical exam in order to apply for work in the police," Abdullah Salih, 22, said. "Suddenly I heard a very big explosion. I was thrown several meters away and I had burns in my legs and hands, then I was taken to the hospital."
Babil province police headquarters said "several people" were arrested in connection with the blast, the biggest confirmed death toll in a single attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Insurgents have repeatedly targeted recruits for Iraq's security forces and comes at a time when Iraqi politicians are trying to form a new government following the Jan. 30 elections.
Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Iraq still needed international forces on the ground while the effort was under way to rebuild Iraqi security forces.
"But we will continue to need and to seek assistance for some time to come," he wrote.
Dia Mohammed, the director of Hillah General Hospital, said most of the 110 dead and 133 wounded were recruits waiting to take physicals as part of the application process to join the Iraqi police and national guard.
"I was lucky because I was the last person in line when the explosion took place. Suddenly there was panic, and many frightened people stepped on me. I lost consciousness and the next thing I was aware of was being in the hospital" said Muhsin Hadi, 29, a recruit. One of his legs was broken in the blast.
The deadliest previous single attack took place on Aug. 29, 2003, when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque in Najaf, killing more than 85 people, including Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim. Although officials never gave a final death toll, there were suspicions that it may have been higher.
On March 2, 2004, at least 181 people were killed and 573 were wounded in multiple bombings at Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and Karbala, although those were from a combination of suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives.
A second car bomb exploded Monday at a police checkpoint in Musayyib, about 20 miles north of Hillah, killing at least one policeman and wounding several others, police said on condition of anonymity.
In Baghdad, the U.S. military said it was investigating the death of a U.S. soldier who was shot while manning a traffic checkpoint in the capital a day earlier. Nearly 1,500 U.S. troops have died since the war began in March 2003.
In central Baghdad, Iraqi troops blocked main avenues leading to and from Firdous Square, the roundabout in central Baghdad where Iraqis toppled a statue of Saddam on April 9, 2003. Occasional shots and busts of automatic weapons fire could be heard during the sweep of the Battaween area, know locally as the Sudanese district.
Several people believed to be Sudanese were seen being arrested by police. Some of Baghdad's past suicide bombers have in the past been identified as Sudanese.
In al-Mashahda, 25 miles north of Baghdad, police found three unidentified corpses with their hands tied together with plastic cuffs, police commissioner Abbas Abdul Ridha said.
The Hillah suicide bombing came one day after Iraqi officials announced that Syria had captured and handed over Saddam Hussein's half brother, a most-wanted leader in the Sunni-based insurgency, in the latest in a series of arrests of important insurgent figures that the Iraqi government hopes will deal a crushing blow to violent opposition forces.
The arrest of Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan also ended months of Syrian denials that it was harboring fugitives from the ousted Saddam regime. Iraq authorities said Damascus acted in a gesture of goodwill.
Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, who shared a mother with Saddam, was arrested along with 29 other fugitive members of the former dictator's Baath Party in Hasakah in northeastern Syria, 30 miles from the Iraqi border, officials said Sunday on condition of anonymity. The U.S. military in Iraq had no comment.
Syria is under intense pressure from the United States, the United Nations, France and Israel to drop its support for radical groups in the Middle East, to stop harboring Iraqi fugitives and to remove its troops from Lebanon.
A week ago authorities grabbed a key associate and the driver of Jordanian-born terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and believed to be the inspiration of the ongoing bombings, beheadings and attacks on Iraqi and American forces. Iraqi officials said they expect to take al-Zarqawi soon.