KIRKUK, Iraq—A suicide bomber drove an explosives-filled car into a police station during the morning shift change in Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk on Monday, killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 45.
Hours later, the U.S. military delivered protective barriers that the police chief had requested weeks ago.
"If the Americans had brought these barriers before, this attack never would have happened," said Sgt. Amer Othman, as he and other angry officers took a cigarette break after gathering evidence in the rubble of the Rahimawa police station.
The bombing was the latest in a string of attacks that have killed more than 300 Iraqi security personnel. The blast occurred as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad to assess the progress of Iraqi security forces ahead of the June 30 handover of authority.
Later in the day, at its headquarters, the United Nations released its long-awaited fact-finding report on the potential for immediate elections as the United States transfers sovereignty to a provisional Iraqi government by June 30.
The report concluded that elections wouldn't be possible until the year's end at the earliest—at least eight months after an election law is adopted and other preconditions are met, including an improvement in security.
The report criticized the U.S. plan to form a temporary government through a complex system of caucuses, a plan that U.S. officials are now downplaying. While the report acknowledged that "the challenges ... are enormous," it didn't offer practical advice on forming a transitional authority before the handover.
The report also contained a sobering, concise summary of the political conflict and social tensions that are preventing Iraqis from agreeing on a path forward. "Unless all actors—Iraqis and non-Iraqis—urgently address the most pressing issues, including the security situation, the underlying tensions could fuel the existing potential for civil strife and violence," the report warned.
In Kirkuk, the freshly delivered protective barriers were still in plastic packaging and stacked a few feet from the remains of the bomber and his victims, adding to the outrage of Iraqi officers who cleaned puddles of blood and residents who picked glass out of relatives' faces.
"Only when there is a tragedy like this do they feel regret," said Sgt. Jafar Hussein, speaking of the U.S. military.
Two U.S. military officials didn't return messages seeking comment on the police requests for barriers and other equipment. An American rapid-response team arrived shortly after the bombing but was gone five hours later.
Kirkuk Police Chief Turhan Yusuf said a white Oldsmobile drove up to the station as dozens of officers changed shifts at 8:30 a.m. He couldn't confirm witness reports that a second man was in the car, which was loaded with nails and more than 100 pounds of explosives. Officers shot at the car, he said, but were unable to stop it before detonation.
Human remains and metal debris were scattered throughout the station's courtyard, while smells of blood and smoke filled the air in the early afternoon.
"This was the bomber's upper body," said officer Ghalib Khourshi, pointing at charred flesh smeared across a wall near the wreckage of the car. "His legs were found at opposite ends of the station."
Apart from the bomber, all the dead and most of the wounded were officers. A schoolboy and four teenage girls also were injured. A wing of a local hospital was filled with blood-spattered survivors, several still in their blue police uniforms. Sobbing relatives helped the overwhelmed hospital staff care for the wounded.
Several injured officers, gasping and bandaged, said they plan to return to duty over the protests of their families.
"In my heart, I don't want him to go back to work," said Mona Yohana, 27, who was at the bedside of her brother, an officer whose face was rendered unrecognizable by shrapnel. "But I am also proud of him."
The attack in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, was the third since January on heavily Kurdish areas. Twin suicide bombings in the Kurdish city of Irbil on Feb. 1 killed more than 100 and strengthened demands from Kurdish leaders for more autonomy and the preservation of their militia.
The Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, northern Iraq's two main political factions, are pushing to incorporate Kirkuk into their autonomous region—a prospect that has triggered violent responses from the oil-rich city's Arabs and Turkmen. The parties' representatives on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council are now focused on including their demands in an interim constitution due later this week.
Yusuf, the Kirkuk police chief, said he doesn't believe ethnic tension was behind the bombing Monday in the mostly Kurdish neighborhood. Like several other policemen, he said foreign terrorists were the most likely suspects.
In other developments, the U.S. military issued a terse statement announcing that 17 people had been removed from duty pending the outcome of an investigation into the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail outside Baghdad. Those suspended included a battalion commander and a company commander. Allegations of prisoner abuse were first raised last year by the human rights group Amnesty International. Abu Ghraib was a notorious torture chamber under Saddam Hussein's rule.
To read the report, go to:
(Ken Dilanian of the Philadelphia Inquirer contributed to this story.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20040223 Kirkuk blast