Almost 50 people were killed as a suicide bomber struck an Iraqi police recruitment center in the Kurdish city of Arbil, a day after Iraq’s first democratic cabinet was sworn in.
In a separate attack in Baghdad, a car bomb killed nine Iraqi soldiers and injured 17 people in the southern district of Dura, an interior ministry official said.
Since Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari first unveiled a partial cabinet line-up on April 28, insurgents have stepped up attacks and bombings, leaving more than 200 people dead, both civilians and members of security forces.
In Arbil, an unidentified bomber mingled with a crowd of men waiting to enlist in the police before setting off his explosives belt next to an office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), officials and witnesses said.
Local KDP officials and police said 46 people died and 71 others were wounded. The US military in a statement put the toll at 60 but there was no confirmation of a rising number of casualties.
The Al-Qaeda linked group Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for what it called the suicide car bombing in the northern Iraqi city, in a message posted on an Islamist website.
Rain puddles turned red with blood in the street outside the centre, and ambulances and private cars rushed to ferry the injured to hospitals and evacuate the dead.
A doctor from Ruz Gari hospital, Arbil’s largest, stepped out in front of a crowd clamoring for news of friends and relatives to read the names of 39 victims — all of them police recruits.
Six bodies, he said, had not yet been identified. At least one of the wounded later died at the hospital.
The attack in Arbil came three days after a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden ambulance into a tent set up for the funeral of a KDP official in the northern town of Tall Afar, killing 25 and wounding scores.
Wednesday’s bombing was one of the deadliest since anti-Shiite attacks left more than 100 dead in the town of Hilla, south of Baghdad, in February. A month later, 51 people were killed in an attack in the northern city of Mosul.
The Sunni Committee of Muslim Scholars, which has ties to the Sunni Arab-based insurgency, condemned the attack, while neighbouring Turkey offered help in treating the wounded.
The grisly attack came a day after the swearing-in of Prime Minister Jaafari’s cabinet, Iraq’s first democratically elected government in half a century.
Jaafari was unable to complete his cabinet line-up, however, because of continued bickering between Shiites and Sunni Arabs that threatened to sink a “national unity” government before it even set sail.
Vice President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni tribal leader, was absent from Tuesday’s ceremony after Shiites rejected the names his committee put forward to join the coalition government following landmark January 30 elections.
Jaafari said the delay was caused by differences amongst Sunnis over the defence minister’s post. But the Sunnis — dominant under the Saddam Hussin regime — charged that the Shiites were trying to impose their own candidates.
The US military said Wednesday that two of its soldiers were killed in separate bomb explosions in Baghdad on Tuesday, bringing to 1,583 the number of American troops who have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
The military also reported that it had found the body of a pilot who went missing when contact was lost with two US jets which are believed to have collided. Searches continued for the other pilot.
Ten other Iraqis and a foreign private security guard were killed in fresh violence in and north of Baghdad, Iraqi security sources said.
Meanwhile a Texas judge presiding over the court-martial of Lynndie England, the soldier photographed with an Iraqi detainee on a leash, threw out her guilty plea for one of her charges in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
Judge Colonel James Pohl said there was no way to resolve contradictions in testimony regarding England’s plea to conspiring to mistreat prisoners after her former boyfriend, the alleged ringleader in the abuse scandal, testified that he had ordered her to hold the leash.
Publication of the photo led to widespread condemnation of US practices in Iraq at a time when US forces were trying to bring the country under control after the 2003 invasion.
As a result of the judge’s decision to suspend proceedings, England’s plea bargaining agreement with the prosecution is no longer valid and the entire case must now go back to the US military authorities.
Support for the Iraq war among Americans has dropped to 41 percent, the lowest level since the invasion which toppled Saddam, according to the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll. — AFP