A suicide driver roared through the gates of a police station in Baghdad's biggest Shiite Muslim slum Thursday and detonated his car bomb in the courtyard, killing 9 policemen and civilians and injuring up to 45 people, authorities reported. The driver and a passenger also were killed.
It was the latest in a string of bombings that have rocked Iraq since August, and like the others no one claimed responsibility for the attack.
Also on Thursday:
- A 4th Infantry Division soldier was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a US convoy northeast of Baghdad, the military reported.
- A Spanish military attache was shot to death outside his residence in Baghdad in attack by four men, one dressed as a Shiite Muslim cleric, who knocked on his door.
- US civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer marked six months since the ouster of Saddam Hussein by recalling the fall of the regime as "one of the most dramatic moments in Iraq's history."
The car bombing in the northeast Baghdad slum of Sadr City occurred about 8:30 a.m. as about 50 officers gathered outside the police compound to collect their pay, authorities said. A white Oldsmobile sped up, police opened fire on it, the bomber crashed into a parked vehicle, and the car exploded.
"I ran and got hit in the leg. When I looked back, all I could see was fire," officer Khalid Sattar Jabar said from his hospital bed.
Mangled police cars were scattered around the bomb site and debris filled the courtyard in front of the one-story building. The blast left a crater about 10 feet across and 4 feet deep, a US Army officer said.
Three policemen and five civilians were killed, said Capt. Sean Kirley of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Two people in the car also died, said Iraqi police Capt. Bassem Sami.
Ambulances ferried wounded through the jammed traffic.
Sami said 28 people were wounded. Officials at Qasim al-Mubarka hospital said they had at least nine. Police said they had reports of an additional eight wounded at Ibn Nafees Hospital.
"It was a huge blast and everything became dark from the debris and sand. I was thrown to the ground," said Mohammed Adnan, 35, who sells watermelons across from the station.
The police building has been undergoing repairs, and several dozen workers were believed to have been inside at the time of the blast, according to US and Iraqi officials at the scene.
Angry residents thronged the area after the bombing, and scores of US soldiers surrounded the police building in Humvees. An Iraqi policeman who pushed through the crowd was stabbed in the right arm after being set upon by the mob, which chanted "No, no to America!" US military medics treated him at the scene.
A nearby mosque, meanwhile, blared warnings for people to leave the area for fear of another booby-trapped car.
Some blamed the bombing on ultraorthodox Wahhabi Sunni Muslims, religious enemies of the Shiites; policemen said they had been threatened by a local Shiite imam; and others blamed Saddam's ousted Baathists and -- indirectly -- the Americans.
"This is all the fault of the Americans. They didn't catch Saddam," said a woman outside the Al-Mubarka Hospital.
Inside, a police sergeant who was wounded in the legs, Saad Drawal al-Dharaji, 29, said an imam had threatened to take action against the police station unless it turned over some officers for "punishment" for having served under Saddam.
"We will have our revenge for this," al-Dharaji said. He said he didn't know the name of the clergyman. A fellow sergeant, Jassim Mohsen, 31, confirmed that duty officers earlier this week recorded the threats, made in last Friday's sermon and in letters to the police.
Jabar, meanwhile, mentioned another possible motive for a bombing: the release of Shiite cleric Moayed al-Khazraji, arrested by the US occupation force Monday and accused of unspecified "criminal and anti-coalition activities." Protesters had rallied at the police station Wednesday to demand his release but dispersed peacefully. "We didn't have the imam," Jabar said.
Sami said the attack was "aimed at obstructing police work at a time when the force was becoming more and more effective in combating crime."
Some in Iraq view police as sellouts doing the Americans' bidding. Others associate them with Saddam's regime or his Baath Party.
The police bombing was the latest in a series that began in early August with an attack on the Jordanian Embassy, which was followed by car and truck bombings at the UN headquarters in Baghdad and at a Shiite shrine in the southern city of Najaf. More than 120 people were killed, including a leading Shiite cleric.
The US Central Command said Thursday's deadly convoy attack occurred about 2 a.m. in Baqouba, about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. The American died of his wounds at the 21st Combat Support Hospital, the military said.
The death brought to 92 the number of US soldiers killed in hostile fire since President Bush declared an end to major fighting on May 1. A total of 321 US soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began on March 20.
The Spanish official, identified as Jose Antonio Bernal Gomez, was killed after four men knocked on his door about 8 a.m., according to a Spanish diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A school guard opposite Bernal's home said the men tried to drag him out of his house. Bernal escaped, tried to run away and was shot in the head. He died at the scene.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry said Bernal was an air force sergeant attached to Spain's National Intelligence Center.
In another development, officials said US soldiers conducted a major raid Sunday near the Syrian border and detained 112 suspects, including a high-ranking official in the former Republican Guard.
The massive raid in Al-Qa'im, about six miles from the border, ended with the capture of a man intelligence officials said was a major general in the guard air defense branch.
"The general officer that they captured, Abed Hamed Mowhoush al-Mahalowi, ... was reported to have links with Saddam Hussein and was a financier of anti-coalition activities, according to intelligence sources," a military spokeswoman said, on condition of anonymity.
Bremer, accompanied by Iyad Allawi, president of the Governing Council for October, spoke in central Baghdad's Paradise Square - where troops had pulled down a statue of Saddam on April 9, the day the capital fell.
"Of course I didn't realize that I would be here six months later with the president of the Governing Council, but it was a very exciting moment for lovers of freedom the world over, and as Dr. Allawi has pointed out, it's one of the most dramatic moments in Iraq's history," Bremer said.
Allawi said that with the help of the international community, the council "will proceed forward in very steady steps towards building democracy and a new Iraq, which will be contributing to peace and stability in the whole region."
(China Daily October 10, 2003)