Baghdad, June 17 (Reuters): A suicide car bomber killed 35 people at an Iraqi military base in Baghdad today as guerrillas intensified a bloody campaign to sabotage plans for US-led occupation to give way to Iraqi rule on June 30.
The blast outside an army recruiting centre on a busy road also wounded 138 people, Iraq’s health minister said.
Colonel Mike Murray of the US 1st Cavalry Division said the bomber had blown up a white four-wheel-drive vehicle at the centre near Muthanna airport, where US troops are based.
Passersby and would-be army recruits took the brunt of the blast, the deadliest single attack in Iraq since a suicide bomber killed 47 people on the same spot in February.
Five foreign contractors and eight Iraqis died in another suicide bombing in the heart of Baghdad on Monday.
Iraqis hoping to join the fledgling army were waiting for recruiting officers to call their names when today’s bomb exploded and hot shrapnel scythed through the crowd.
“I heard my salary would be 600,000 dinars (about $430) a month. I needed a job,” said Ibrahim Ismail, who had been trying to sign up, from his hospital bed. “Then suddenly there was huge explosion. Ten or 15 others were on top of me on the street. I can’t go back. No way.”
Some volunteers said they would still try to join the army because of dire economic hardship. Guerrillas have mounted a lethal drive to undermine Iraq’s new interim government ahead of the June 30 handover.
“This was a cowardly attack. It is a demonstration again that these attacks are aimed at the stability of Iraq and the Iraqi people,” Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said at the scene.
The insurgents, thought to include Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein, Iraqi nationalists and foreign militants, have targeted the oil industry, government officials and security forces in the runup to the formal transfer of power. Oil exports, Iraq’s economic lifeblood, remained paralysed today, and engineers said oil wells were being shut down while pipelines blown up in the south and north were repaired.
President George W. Bush, whose administration is under fire for its Iraq policies, said on Tuesday the US was “bringing back a 5,000-year-old civilisation” in Iraq.
But retired US diplomats and military officers said he had led the US into an ill-planned war that had weakened its security, directly challenging one of Bush’s main arguments for re-election in November.
The US military said a third soldier had died after a rocket attack on a base north of Baghdad yesterday. A Hungarian soldier was killed today when an explosion hit their convoy. A civilian driver, also Hungarian, was wounded by flying shards of glass. Since the US-led invasion to oust Saddam last year, at least 612 US soldiers have been killed in action in Iraq.
“We all believe that current administration policies have failed in the primary responsibilities of preserving national security and providing world leadership,” a statement signed by 27 retired US officials said.
The group includes Republicans and Democrats, a former CIA director, two former ambassadors to the Soviet Union and a retired chairman of the military joint chiefs of staff.
Bush’s “overbearing” approach to foreign policy has relied too much on military power, spurned the concerns of US allies and disdained the UN, the group said. Secretary of state Colin Powell rejected the idea the Iraq war had isolated the US. “If this is a political statement... and this is their point of view, I disagree,” he said.
Loss of confidence
Most Iraqis have lost confidence in the US-led occupation and would feel safer if foreign troops left their country, a poll commissioned by the coalition authority has found.
The poll, conducted in May and obtained by Reuters today, found only 10 per cent of Iraqis had confidence in US-led forces — down from 28 per cent in January. Fifty-five per cent would feel safer if those troops left Iraq immediately. US officials have said the results reflect the fact Iraqis dislike being occupied, but expect disenchantment to fade after the formal transfer of sovereignty to an interim government in less than two weeks.