May 5, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Insurgents killed at least 20 people in three separate attacks targeting Iraqi security forces in Baghdad on Thursday, including one by a man who blew himself up while waiting in line outside an army recruitment center, police said.
A similar attack Wednesday by a suicide bomber standing in line outside a police recruitment center in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil killed 60 Iraqis and wounded 150.
The attacks are part of an escalation of violence aimed at destabilizing Iraq's new democratic government, which held its first Cabinet meeting Thursday. The insurgents often target Iraqi security forces, which are being recruited and trained by the U.S.-led coalition as part of its eventual exit strategy.
Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded near a police patrol in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing four policemen and wounding five, said police Brig. Wathiq Mohammed Taher.
U.S. forces searched a hospital in central Iraq last week for suspected terrorists after receiving a tip, but none was found, the military said Thursday. It would not say if troops were looking for militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi at the hospital in Ramadi. A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. officials had been alerted to "possible terrorist activities related to" al-Zarqawi "in and around" the hospital.
Another U.S. official, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, said it would be inappropriate to say publicly whether U.S. officials believe al-Zarqawi is ill or injured because that information could complicate efforts to capture him.
Al-Zarqawi, leader of the country's most feared terrorist group, al-Qaida in Iraq, is the most-wanted man in Iraq, and he is tied to many bombings and kidnappings since Saddam Hussein was driven from power in 2003.
The latest violence has left the government grappling with how to deal with an insurgency seemingly bent on escalating attacks.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari had hoped to draw support away from the insurgency by including in his Cabinet members of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority, which dominated under Saddam. But members of his Shiite-dominated alliance have blocked candidates with links to Saddam's regime, which brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds.
Al-Jaafari's' 37-member Cabinet, most of whom were sworn in Tuesday, includes just four Sunni ministers in relatively minor posts. Months after the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, bickering continued over two deputy prime minister slots and five portfolios that are in temporary hands, including defense.
Al-Jaafari aide Laith Kuba said the seven vacancies would be filled by Saturday and put before parliament for a vote Sunday. President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents must approve the names before they go to the 275-member National Assembly.
Earlier Thursday, lawmakers from al-Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance said there was agreement on who would fill the key oil and electricity ministry slots, which are destined for Shiites.
Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, the first oil minister in the former U.S.-appointed Governing Council, will return to the position, said Ali al-Dabagh, a Shiite lawmaker involved in the talks.
Former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite deputy prime minister in the new government, has been filling in as oil minister. His office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mihsin Shlash, an independent Shiite lawmaker, will be electricity minister, al-Dabagh and two other lawmakers said.
In Thursday's worst violence, a man with explosives strapped to his body set them off while standing in a long line of job applicants outside an army recruitment office in central Baghdad, police said. At least 11 people were killed and 14 wounded, police and hospital officials said. The Defense Ministry said an Iraqi guard was among the dead.
Insurgents typically have attacked such centers with car bombs, and many are protected by high blast walls. But witnesses said this attacker walked past a high wall topped with barbed wire to the entrance and detonated his explosives.
"While we were standing in line, a man walked past, right up to the heavily guarded entrance gate, as if he wanted to ask the guards a question," said Anwar Wasfi, who was near the end of the line.
"Suddenly, an explosion occurred, and I was knocked over," Wasfi said at Yarmouk Hospital, where he was treated for leg and arm wounds.
The attack was half a mile from the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the Iraqi government, foreign embassies and U.S. forces.
In western Baghdad, insurgents attacked two police patrols, killing a total of nine officers.
In the first attack, gunmen fired on a patrol in the Amil area, killing eight policemen and wounding two, said police Maj. Mousa Abdul Karim. About 15 minutes later, a suicide car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol in nearby Ghazaliyah, killing one officer and wounding six, according to Karim and a U.S. military spokesman, Sgt. 1st Class Danette Rodesky-Flores.
Another suicide car bomber hit a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad's southern Doura neighborhood, destroying a large truck but causing no American casualties, Rodesky-Flores said.
Skid marks suggested the attacker raced onto the highway from a side road, exploding his vehicle near the front of the truck and setting it on fire.
In another part of Doura on Wednesday night, a suicide car bomber attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint, killing at least nine soldiers and wounding 16, including 10 civilians, police said.
Wednesday's attack in Irbil, 215 miles north of Baghdad, was the deadliest in Iraq since Feb. 28, when a suicide car bomber struck a crowd of police and national guard recruits in Hillah, south of the capital, killing 125 and wounding more than 140.
Some 250 job seekers were waiting to be searched outside the center when the bomber blew himself up, police Capt. Othman Aziz said. An insurgent joined the line and detonated explosives concealed on his body, he said.
As of Monday, at least 616 Iraqi police had been killed this year, according to statistics compiled by the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The northern Kurdish areas have been spared much of the worst of the violence, partly because members of the Sunni Arab minority believed to be driving the insurgency stand out and are closely watched.
A Sunni militant group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, saying in an Internet statement that it was revenge for Kurdish cooperation with U.S. forces. The statement described the attack as a car bombing, but there was no crater in the street, as would be expected in such a case.
The Ansar al-Sunnah Army is believed to be a breakaway faction of Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish-led group with links to al-Qaida. It has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against Iraqi security forces and twin suicide bombings targeting Kurds in Irbil that killed 109 people in 2004.