BAGHDAD, Iraq # A suicide car bomber Wednesday killed 47 people, most of them Iraqi men standing in line to join the new Iraqi army, Iraqi medical officials said.
It is the second straight day suspected insurgents attacked where people were applying for jobs with the Iraqi security services. On Tuesday, a deadly truck bombing killed 53 people near a police station south of Baghdad as Iraqi applicants lined up outside.
Wednesday’s blast happened at 7:25 a.m. local time (11:35 p.m. ET) in front of the Iraqi Army Recruiting Center in central Baghdad, U.S. Army Col. Ralph Baker said. A man drove a white 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera packed with explosives weighing between 300 and 500 pounds that shredded everything in its path, Baker said.
Coalition military officials said they think the attack fits the pattern of an al Qaeda attack, Baker said.
Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 427th Field Artillery, who have a forward operations base close by, went to the scene soon after the attack.
One military source said the amount of explosives was similar to the one detonated at the so-called Assassin’s Gate last month, where Iraqis lined up to enter the coalition’s secured “Green Zone” in Baghdad.
Not long after the explosion, the U.S. military handed out a leaflet offering rewards for information that leads to the capture of insurgents and their weaponry.
The leaflet had printing on both sides with text, in Arabic, over photographs. One side shows a photograph of a burning truck, the other side carries photographs of a mother and child and other relatively happy-looking Iraqis.
Tuesday’s truck bomb also bore al Qaeda “fingerprints,” a U.S. Army spokesman said.
That blast, in Iskandariyah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, wounded more than 150 people, an Interior Ministry source said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the Army spokesman in Baghdad, gave somewhat lower casualty figures, saying at least 35 people were killed and 75 wounded.
The U.S. military command said its figures could be low since Iraqi authorities are handling the investigation, according to The Associated Press.
The bomb detonated in a red pickup truck that had belonged to Saddam Hussein’s former intelligence service, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. The blast destroyed part of a street that also has a courthouse and an office that distributes national identity cards in the mixed Sunni-Shiite town, the Iraqi official said.
Kimmitt said that while no group had claimed responsibility, the estimated 500 pounds of explosives in the vehicle had some “fingerprints” of the foreign fighter operations referred to in a seized memo purported to be from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Kimmitt said the purported al-Zarqawi memo raises concern about the growth of Iraqi security forces, but that “the current strategy that we are implementing is in fact working.”
He said despite “almost daily” attacks, recruiting police officers hasn’t stopped.
This week, the U.S. military released parts of a letter found with an al Qaeda courier last month. They said they think the letter was intended for al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan and is an insurgent’s call for help fighting the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqis who work with it.
Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said the memo was shown Tuesday to members of the Iraq Governing Council.
Senor said Tuesday the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqis who work with it would not be deterred by attacks.
Coalition and Iraqi forces are bracing for more violence from anti-U.S. guerrillas as the country heads toward independence July 1.
In two other separate attacks Tuesday, two pairs of Iraqi police officers were shot as they drove to work in Baghdad, Interior Ministry sources said.
The four officers were killed when gunmen sprayed their vehicles with bullets. In each case, the officers were traveling together. A major and captain who were cousins were killed in western Baghdad; two brothers, both lieutenants, died in the eastern part of the capital, the sources said.
Insurgents name Iraqi troops and police as enemy
This week’s attacks follow the release of parts of the letter indicating Islamic fighters may have asked al Qaeda to help provoke Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslims into a civil war as a way to make the work of the U.S.-led coalition more difficult.
Military officials said they suspect the 17-page letter was written by al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian believed connected to al Qaeda.
The letter was on a computer disk captured in January along with Hassan Ghul, a man identified as an al Qaeda courier, senior coalition officials said. Ghul identified al-Zarqawi as the letter’s author, one official said.
The letter, translated from Arabic to English by the U.S.-led coalition, expressed concern about the growth of the Iraqi police and army, which it calls one of the four main enemies of the guerrillas. The others named are the Americans, Kurds and Shiites.
U.S. officials said last month that mounting evidence suggests al-Zarqawi was involved in some of last year’s major attacks in Iraq, including those on Italian forces, U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and a mosque in Najaf.