Suicide bomber kills 59 Iraqis as hundreds queue to join army
IRAQI insurgents intensified their campaign of violence ahead of the withdrawal of US troops with a suicide bomb in Baghdad which killed at least 59 people yesterday.
The attack outside an army recruitment centre was the single worst this year and marks a change of tactics to try to stop Iraqis joining the security forces, just as they are most needed.
American combat troops will pull out by the end of the month, leaving a force of 50,000 to train Iraq's army and police.
But violence has increased dramatically and al-Qa'ida has warned of a further escalation as the number of foreign soldiers falls.
In yesterday's attack, a bomber sat among a queue of 1,000 army applicants before detonating his explosives. It was immediately blamed on al-Qa'ida.
Potential recruits were lining up outside a former defence ministry building in the centre of Baghdad. Their number was a mark of the desperation for work among young Iraqi men.
They were being allowed in 250 at a time, making them an easy target.
It was the last day of the current recruitment round at the base, which is the headquarters of the 11th Division of the Iraqi army.
Witnesses said the attacker had been sitting in the queue for several hours. When an officer approached asking for identity papers, he triggered his bomb, which was packed with nails.
The bodies of his victims were spread across the open space outside the base, some still clutching their applications, witnesses said.
"After the explosion, everyone ran away, and the soldiers fired into the air," said Ahmed Kadhim (19), a recruit who was unharmed.
"I saw dozens of people lying on the ground. Some of them were on fire. Others were running with blood pouring out."
A senior officer defended the lack of security which had made the men a target.
"We couldn't get another place for the recruits," Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi, a military spokesman, said. "It was difficult to control the area because it's an open area."
The official death toll was given as 47, but the city's central morgue reported receiving 59 bodies. Other counts put the figure in the sixties.
The American military surge of 2008, combined with the success of the Sunni militias, drastically reduced the insurgency in Iraq. But there has been a rise in violence as the US withdrawal approaches.
The failure of Baghdad's intensive security to stop regular significant suicide attacks has particularly worried the authorities.
Last week, Lt Gen Babaker Zebari, the Iraqi chief of staff, warned that his troops might not be ready to assume full responsibility for the country's security until 2020.
The police are said to be less well-prepared than the army, though American senior officers say the overall level of training is adequate.
Failure by the major political parties to agree a coalition government five months after an inconclusive general election has contributed to unease.
A final pull-out of American troops is scheduled for the end of 2011. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)