125 killed in bloodiest blast since Saddam fall

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 1.03.05

Hilla (Iraq), Feb. 28 (Reuters): A suicide bomber detonated a car near a crowded marketplace south of Baghdad today, killing 125 people and wounding 130 in the single bloodiest attack in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The bomber rammed the car into a crowd of people queuing for government jobs outside a health centre in the town of Hilla, 100 km south of the capital. Many of those killed were shopping at stalls across the road and caught in the blast.

Reuters television footage showed a pile of bloodied bodies outside the building. Smoke rose from the wreckage of burnt-out market stalls as bystanders loaded mangled corpses on to wooden carts, usually used to carry fruit and vegetables.

Others, their limbs ripped to shreds, were piled into the back of pick-up trucks. Nearby buildings were pockmarked by shrapnel. People wept, clutched the heads in despair and shouted: ?God is greatest? as rescuers led the wounded away.

?The number of dead has reached 115. We are doing our utmost to treat the wounded (but) the death toll may rise,? an official in Hilla?s health directorate said.

He said existing patients had been moved out of hospitals to make way for the victims of the blast. More than 30 medics had rushed to the city from nearby towns to treat the wounded.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society said it had sent emergency aid and medics to Hilla from Baghdad to help. The toll makes the blast the single deadliest attack since the fall of Saddam in April 2003, and today one of the bloodiest days of the two-year insurgency.

The worst day was last March, when more than 170 people were killed in a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala, just west of Hilla.

The target of the latest attack appeared to be a crowd of people waiting outside the health centre to get certificates needed to apply for government jobs. Hilla residents said many of them were applying for jobs in Iraq?s security forces.

Insurgents, fighting to drive US troops out of Iraq and wreck the country?s transition to democracy, have often targeted people looking for state jobs. They frequently attack police and army recruits.

The carnage came as Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi acknowledged Iraq?s security forces were still unable to take on the insurgency without the help of US-led troops.

?Iraqis should be able to start taking over more and more security responsibilities very soon,? he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. ?But we will continue to need and to seek assistance for some time to come.? Elsewhere in Iraq, another suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle in the town of Musayyib, just 30 km from Hilla, but succeeded in killing only himself.