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Bomber Kills 46 at Iraqi Police Center

May 4, 2005

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) _ An Iraqi carrying hidden explosives set them off while standing in line outside a police recruitment center with dozens of job applicants on Wednesday, killing at least 46 Iraqis and wounding about 100, officials said.

The Iraqi militant group Ansar al-Sunnah claimed responsibility for the attack in the Kurdish city of Irbil, saying in a statement on Internet that it was in revenge for the Kurds’ alliance with U.S. forces. The same group had claimed credit for a 2004 twin suicide bombing also targeting Kurds in Irbil that killed 109 people.

At least seven cars parked near the center were destroyed by the blast in an upscale residential neighborhood that includes a Sheraton Hotel. Several nearby buildings were damaged in the city, which is 217 miles north of Baghdad.

Pools of blood formed on the street outside the center, as ambulances and cabs raced to the chaotic scene to take casualties to local hospitals.

One hospital became so crowded with wounded Iraqis that staff members used a loudspeaker to give the names and room numbers of the victims to relatives who rushed there.

At least 46 people were killed and 100 wounded, said Gov. Nozad Hadi and Dr. Burhan Saleh of Irbil Teaching Hospital, where some of the casualties were treated.

U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer James Drake confirmed those figures, but said there were conflicting reports about whether the blast was caused by a pedestrian carrying hidden explosives or a car bomb. The claim of responsibility by Ansar al-Sunnah said its attack involved a suicide car bomb.

In Irbil, police Capt. Othman Aziz said that an Iraqi man stood among dozens of recruits who were in line outside the two-story building where every entrant is searched by a guards. Shortly before reaching the entrance, the attacker detonated himself, Aziz said.

Iraqi civilian Hawra Mohammed, 37, said he had just dropped his brother Ahmed, 32, off at the center to apply for a job and driven away when the explosion occurred.

When Hawra raced back, he found his brother lying in a street, bleeding and unconscious. But Ahmed soon began to move.

``I lifted my brother onto my shoulders and took him to a nearby hospital,″ Hawra said in an interview. ``The blood on my shirt is my brother’s.″

Hawra said he nearly fainted at the sight of dead bodies outside the recruitment center, and that many of the victims were unemployed, just like his brother, and wanted to earn money as policemen.

The attack appeared to be the deadliest by insurgents in Iraq since Feb. 28, when a suicide car bomber struck a crowd of police and national guard recruits outside a medical clinic in Hillah, south of the capital. That attack, which killed 125 people and wounded more than 140, was the single deadliest-ever in the insurgency.

Militants have stepped up their attacks across Iraq in the last week, often targeting convoys of U.S. and Iraqi troops, and Iraqi police on patrol or at recruitment centers.

A key goal of U.S. troops is eventually to train enough Iraqi security forces to reduce the role now being played by the Americans in fighting the insurgency.

Elsewhere, the U.S. military said Wednesday that two American soldiers were killed in separate roadside bomb attacks in Baghdad the day before. Those explosions, and the Irbil blast, raised the death toll from a week of insurgent-related violence in Iraq to nearly 200.

Little information was immediately available about the attacks on those two U.S. military convoys, as American forces took time to notify the victims’ relatives.

As of Tuesday, at least 1,585 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,211 died as a result of hostile action, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

In Baghdad, two legislators from Iraq’s Kurdish and Sunni minorities, condemned the attack in Irbil.

Kurdish legislator Fouad Massoum blamed it on insurgent groups such as Ansar al-Islam, which operates in the Kurdish enclave, and Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be linked with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.

``This is a horrible crime and a massacre,″ Massoum said in an interview outside the National Assembly. ``Cooperation between the people and the security forces is necessary to fight terrorists like al-Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam, who are the enemies of Iraq.″

Mohsin al-Jarwa, the Sunni Arab lawmaker, said: ``This is 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. Iraqis don’t kill Iraqis, and I strongly condemn this terrorist act.″

In Baghdad on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari resumed months talks aimed at resolving dispute among Sunnis and Shiites over seven unfilled positions in the new government’s 37-member Cabinet, including the key oil and defense ministries.

On Tuesday, the first democratically elected government in the history of Iraq was sworn in, and al-Jaafari, a Shiite, pledged before a half-empty parliament that he would unite the country’s rival ethnic factions and fight terrorism.

But the partial Cabinet fails to give the country’s disaffected Sunni Arab minority, believed to be driving the insurgency, a meaningful governing stake.

Many lawmakers skipped the swearing in ceremony, which took place in a conference hall in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. Those absent included the government’s most senior Sunni member, Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer.

The Cabinet that took office includes 16 Shiite Arabs, nine Kurds, four Sunnis and one Christian. Two deputy prime minister’s slots _ including one al-Jaafari hopes to offer to a woman _ were left vacant and five ministerial portfolios are in temporary hands.

In other developments Wednesday:

_The Iraqi government said its security forces captured a son of one of Saddam Hussein’s half brothers in a recent raid on suspected insurgents. Ayman Sabawi is the son of Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, a half brother of Saddam’s, who served as a presidential adviser before the U.S.-led invasion. Al-Hassan was captured on Feb. 26.

_A car bomb exploded south of Baghdad in Hillah near the offices of the Dawa party, a Shiite group, police said. Nearby vehicles and buildings were damaged, but no casualties were reported.

_An Australian task force arrived in Baghdad to work for the release of Douglas Wood, a kidnapped Australian citizen and a resident of California with an American wife. In a televised interview on the al-Jazeera TV network, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer appealed for the release of Wood, saying the 63-year-old engineer had a serious heart condition.