BAGHDAD, Iraq—A pair of car bombings in Iraq on Thursday killed at least 42 Iraqis and injured 142.
The majority of those casualties—at least 36 dead and 138 wounded—came from a suicide car bomber outside the gates of an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps recruiting station.
A white Toyota Land Cruiser slammed into the crowd in front of the station at about 9 a.m. Shrapnel from a stack of artillery rounds attached to explosives in the vehicle ripped through men, women and children across four lanes of traffic and 50 yards in either direction.
"It was a terrible view. I saw many dead bodies lying in the street; many of them were burning," said Hussam Mohammed, a taxi driver who drove up as the bomb exploded. "There were body parts everywhere. I saw hands and heads. It was like a garden, with red everywhere, but instead of roses, there was flesh."
Witnesses said many of those caught up in the attack were ordinary people sitting in traffic. There was, for example, a bus full of families and workers starting their day that had stopped to let off some potential recruits.
Several people at the scene, including Iraqi policemen, said they thought the numbers of dead and wounded given by the Ministry of Health were low because of families picking up the dead and taking them home without making official reports, and bodies blown into fragments that hadn't yet been counted.
In the second bombing Thursday, six Civil Defense Corps troops were killed and four wounded in a car bombing near Balad, to the north of Baghdad.
Thursday's incidents meant that at least 70 people have died and 215 have been injured in five days of car bombs in Iraq, most of them in the capital.
The country has seen worse violence, but with the hand-over of sovereignty to a new Iraqi government coming June 30, the bloodshed has left many Iraqis shaken and afraid of what might be coming.
"They're clearly trying to separate the people from the incoming government," said 1st Calvary Col. Mike Murray, whose men guarded the site.
The attack on military recruits came at a time when Iraq's ability to defend itself is increasingly coming into question. Many of the recent bombings have targeted police or the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, with the apparent message that insurgents—not the government—control the country.
"We had expected that as we move towards sovereignty, as progress is made towards elections, the anti-democratic forces will continue their attacks, but I will say that I agree with what the prime minister said, that the Iraqi people will not tolerate this," said L. Paul Bremer, the top American official in Iraq.
Prime minister Iyad Allawi visited the scene of the bombing at the recruiting station, looking dazed as he walked around the wreckage. He stepped over debris, staring at the ground in front of him, which was slick in places with gasoline and blood.
"It's a cowardly attack ... aimed at the stability of Iraq, aimed at the people of Iraq," Allawi said, sweat glistening on his forehead. "The government of Iraq is determined to go ahead and confront the enemy."
Surrounded by a phalanx of U.S. security guards, Allawi said, "Justice will prevail."
At the Yarmuk Hospital, down the road from the recruiting station, where family members searched lists of names, the mood was less confident.
"The government cannot keep control. There is no security," said Kadum Abdul Hussein, whose chest and gut were punctured by shrapnel. "These new policemen cannot do anything for us."
Outside the hospital, a woman in black screamed and screamed, then broke into sobs, shaking and wailing at the sky.
A guard lowered his eyes and said, "One more of the victims just died."
The minister of the interior, Falah al Nakib, announced hours after the Baghdad attack that his ministry and the Ministry of Defense would be joining to make a security Cabinet led by Allawi.
In an apparent contrast to earlier statements by Iraqi government officials, al Nakib said "we will not hesitate to declare marshal law if necessary." Earlier in the week, Iraqi President Ghazi al Yawer said the government had ruled out declaring a state of emergency.
Al Nakib also said the recent bombings were the work of al-Qaida-linked terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi and complained that Iraq's borders are too porous, especially those with Iran and Kuwait.
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20040617 Baghdad blast