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Baghdad bleeds without pause

Baghdad, Feb. 11 (Reuters): A suicide car bomb killed 47 people at an army recruitment centre in Baghdad today, taking the death toll to about 100 in two attacks on Iraqis working with the U.S. occupation forces within 24 hours.

“It was aimed strictly at Iraqis,” US Colonel Ralph Baker said at the scene. About 140-230 kg of plastic explosives mixed with artillery shells had maximised the “kill effect”, he added.

Medical staff said hospitals had taken in 44 dead and 55 wounded, of whom at least three later died of their wounds.

Some 53 people were killed yesterday in a similar attack on Iraqis lining up for jobs at a police station south of Baghdad.

The police and new army are central to Washington’s plan to hand over power to Iraqis by June 30. Most of today’s victims were newly recruited soldiers reporting for duty.

“We were standing in line waiting to start our shift in the new army and we saw a white car drive by us and then blow up. Many died. There were about 400 people in line,” said Ghassan Samir, one of the wounded.

Relatives tried to identify loved ones at the scene, peeling back bloody sheets and bodybags, covering mouths and noses as they examined each corpse. One distraught old man could not find his son. As bodies were piled into crude wooden coffins, angry people accused the Americans of carrying out the attack.

“It was the Americans! The Americans! They never came to oust Saddam, they came for the oil,” one man said.

The latest attacks follow a pattern of targeting Iraqis seen as collaborating with the US occupation. Twin suicide bombings in northern Iraq against two Kurdish parties allied with the US killed more than 100 people on February 1. Yesterday’s suicide car bomb exploded among civilians lining up outside a police station in the town of Iskandariya, 40 km south of the capital, to apply for jobs.

Some 620 police have been killed since Saddam Hussein was toppled on April 9.

“If the Iraqis don’t join the police and army, that means we are saying to the Americans: ‘Stay here forever’,” said Haitham Imad, a 29-year-old army recruit who survived today’s blast.

Shortly after the blast, a UN team visiting Iraq cancelled a meeting with political parties in the capital, reporters on the scene said. No reason was given.

The team, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, is discussing the possibility of holding elections ahead of the June 30 handover deadline, as demanded by leaders of the Shia majority. US plans are for elections only later.

Osama aide letter

A letter purportedly written by a fugitive with alleged links to Osama bin Laden urges suicide bombings against Iraq’s Shia majority in a bid to spark civil war, according to a copy released by US forces today.

The US military said it had intercepted a computer disc bearing the letter, which it said was written by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian al Qaida suspect for whom they doubled a reward on offer to $10 million.

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