Suicide bombing kills dozens of police applicants in Irbil
Within seconds, 46 of the job-seekers were dead, some of their bodies unrecognizable.
The Washington Post
BAGHDAD, Iraq — It was a quiet weekday morning in Irbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq. On a narrow side street, a line of men snaked along the sidewalk from the door of a police recruiting site.
They were mostly jobless, and their immediate concern was getting hired. But one man had mayhem in mind.
A suicide bomber, wrapped in explosives under a traditional Kurdish outfit of baggy blouse and trousers, slipped into the line shortly after 9 a.m. today and detonated his deadly cargo, Kurdish officials said.
Within seconds, 46 of the job-seekers were dead, some of their bodies unrecognizable. Scores more writhed in pain from burns or shrapnel gashes. As they screamed for help, blood pooled in the explosives-blackened street. Fear and chaos spread out in waves as ambulance sirens announced another disaster.
"We were shocked at the huge sound of the explosion," said Aso Ghafour, a security guard at the nearby Sheraton Hotel. "Immediately we went to see what happened and we found dozens of people running covered in blood, and the street was full of pieces of flesh and body parts."
The blast, for which an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group claimed responsibility, killed at least 46 people and wounded 71, according to Kurdish government officials in Irbil. Hospital officials said a total of 60 died and added that the toll could rise because many of the injured had head wounds.
The attack was the worst in over a year in the relatively peaceful Kurdish-populated north of Iraq. In February 2004, two suicide bombers in Irbil killed 117 and wounded 133. The bombing also was the deadliest in Iraq since Feb. 28, when a suicide car bomber targeted police and national guard recruits outside a medical clinic in Hilla, south of Baghdad. That attack killed 125 and wounded 130.
The Irbil suicide bomber struck one day after Iraq's first democratically elected government was sworn in. High-level talks continued today among Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish officials to find a Sunni Arab to serve in the new government in the key post of defense minister. So far, the three groups have been unable to agree.
Army of Ansar al-Sunna, which is associated with al-Qaida, claimed it carried out today's bombing in an Internet posting.
According to a Kurdish official, members of Ansar al-Sunna include both Kurdish and Arab Sunni Muslims. The same group was responsible for the twin bombings in Irbil last year, which he said were carried out by Arabs who were not Iraqi.
The bombing sent Irbil, more than 200 miles north of Baghdad, into high security alert. Police and Kurdish militia patrolled the streets and set up checkpoints. Government employees were sent home, local officials appealed to citizens for information that might lead to arrests, and university students went to hospitals to donate blood.
The bomber struck outside a Kurdish Democratic Party office that was distributing application forms for the police force. The applicants were responding to advertisements on Kurdish television in recent days soliciting recruits for the police.
Kamal Karkukli, a party official, said authorities initially thought the blast was a car bomb. But further investigations, Karkukli said, confirmed that the bomber was on foot.
Dozens of tearful family members gathered outside Irbil's three hospitals. At one, a 10-year-old girl was crying that "my father lost his eyes, my father lost his eyes." She said he wanted to join the police because the salary was good and had "promised me to bring me dolls and toys from the first salary he got."
Kurdish legislator Fouad Massoum called the attack "a massacre." Mohsin al-Jarwa, a Sunni Arab lawmaker, called it "an inhuman operation, killing the sons of the land who were coming to protect Iraq. I don't believe those who carried this out were Iraqis," he said. "Iraqis don't kill Iraqis, and I strongly condemn this terrorist act."
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