20 killed in fresh wave of Iraq attacks

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The Independent Online

Iraqi insurgents killed at least 20 people in three separate attacks targeting Iraqi security forces in Baghdad today, including one by a man who set off hidden explosives while waiting in line outside an army recruitment centre, police said.

Iraqi insurgents killed at least 20 people in three separate attacks targeting Iraqi security forces in Baghdad today, including one by a man who set off hidden explosives while waiting in line outside an army recruitment centre, police said.

A similar attack on Wednesday by a suicide bomber standing in line outside a police recruitment centre in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil killed 60 Iraqis and wounded 150.

The attacks are part of an escalation of violence aimed at destabilising Iraq's new democratic government. The insurgents often target Iraqi security forces, which are being recruited and trained by the US-led coalition as part of its eventual exit strategy.

As of Monday, at least 616 Iraqi police had been killed this year, according to statistics compiled by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

In today's worst violence, a man carrying hidden explosives set them off while standing in a long line of job applicants outside an Iraqi army recruitment office in central Baghdad, killing at least 11 people, police and hospital officials said. At least six people were wounded in the attack, which occurred at about 0500 BST, a police officer said.

The recruitment centre, which has been hit by insurgent attacks before, is surrounded by a cement wall topped with barbed wire. It is located on the site of a former Iraqi army airfield.

"While we were standing in line, a man walked past, right up to the heavily guarded entrance gate, as if he wanted to ask the guards a question," said Anwar Wasfi, who was near the end of the queue.

"Suddenly, an explosion occurred, and I was knocked over," Wasfi said during an interview at Yarmuq Hospital.

The US military said it could not immediately confirm the attack, which was reported less than one half a mile from the Green Zone, where Iraq's parliament and embassies are located and heavily protected by American forces.

In western Baghdad today, insurgents attacked two police patrols, killing a total of nine policemen, an official said.

In the first, gunmen opened fire on a patrol in the Al-Amil area of western Baghdad at 0345 BST, killing eight policemen and wounding two, said police Major Mousa Abdul Karim. He first reported the blast was caused by a suicide car bomb, but said he realised that wasn't the case when rescuers reached the scene.

About 15 minutes after the Al-Amil attack, a suicide car bomb exploded in the nearby Al-Gazaliya area, killing one policeman, wounding six and destroying four of their cars, said Karim.

The US military said it had no immediate information about attacks in Al-Amil or Al-Gazaliya.

A car bomb also exploded this morning near a police station in Baghdad's southern neighbourhood of Dora, but no casualties were immediately reported, said police Captain Talib Thamir.

In that area a suicide car bomber attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint late on Wednesday, killing at least nine soldiers and wounding 16, including 10 civilians, police said. The US military said as many as 15 soldiers were killed but just six wounded.

Wednesday's brutal attack in Irbil, 215 miles north of Baghdad, was the deadliest one in Iraq since February 28, when a suicide car bomber struck a crowd of police and national guard recruits in Hillah, south of Iraq's capital, killing 125 and wounding more than 140.

The Irbil tragedy left pieces of flesh spattered on the walls outside the police recruitment centre. Nails and shards of metal were packed in with the explosives to maximise casualties.

A Sunni militant group, Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility, saying the attack was revenge for Kurdish co-operation with US forces.

Some 250 job seekers were waiting to be searched outside the recruitment centre when the bomb went off, said police Captain Othman Aziz. An Iraqi insurgent joined the line and detonated explosives concealed on his body, he said.

The US military put the toll at 60 dead and 150 wounded in the attack. Nearly 200 people have been killed in insurgent violence across Iraq since the new government was announced last week.

Attacks against security forces have become so frequent in Baghdad and other major centres that most recruitment centres are surrounded by protective blast walls. But the northern Kurdish areas usually have been spared the worst of the violence, in part because members of the Sunni Arab minority believed to be driving the insurgency stand out and are closely watched.

Ansar al-Sunnah, in its statement posted on a militant website, claimed the attack was a car bombing and said it was staged to punish Kurdish security forces that have "bowed their heads to the Crusaders and raised their spears against the Muslims and fought alongside the Americans." There was no bomb crater in the street, as there normally would be after a car bombing.

Ansar al-Sunnah is believed to be a breakaway faction of Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish-led group with links to al Qaida. It has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against Iraqi security forces and twin suicide bombings targeting Kurds in Irbil that killed 109 people in 2004.

Insurgents have stepped up their attacks since a new Cabinet was approved last week.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari hoped to include members of the Sunni minority, which dominated under Saddam Hussein, in his government. But members of his Shiite-dominated alliance have blocked candidates with links to Saddam's regime, which brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds.

After months of wrangling, the 37-member Cabinet included just four Sunni ministers in relatively minor posts. Bickering continues over seven positions, including the oil and defence ministries, which remain in temporary hands.