A powerful bomb killed seven Iraqi police recruits and injured 54 others yesterday just after they had finished a five-day training course with US instructors in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad.
The explosion happened as the newly trained police were marching from a local boys' school to a nearby government building. Eight US police instructors, who had been in charge of the training programme, were not present when the bomb exploded.
Fifteen victims were receiving emergency surgery at Ramadi General Hospital.
"The explosion was so loud it was heard all over the city," said an Iraqi police officer, Hamed Ali.
Theblast came a day after a new audiotaped message purporting to come from Saddam Hussein threatened to rally anti-US forces.
The carefully planned attack is by far the most serious action against Iraqis who are working with the US. In the past, there have been some killings and many threats but the explosion in Ramadi shows that American plans to turn over much of the responsibility for law enforcement to an Iraqi police force will be resisted.
"That is what you get for working with the Americans. They have all been warned before," an elderly Iraqi was reported to have shouted in the corridor of the hospital's emergency ward.
Hours after the explosion there were still pools of blood on the street and pavement near the police station in Ramadi.
The town, which is on the Euphrates, is dominated by the powerful Dlaim tribe. It has seen frequent attacks on Americans. But, though it is often described as a pro-Saddam stronghold, its people pride themselves on the local uprising they staged when an air force general named Mohammed Madhlum from the Dlaim was executed by the Iraqi leader in the Nineties.
Attacks on US forces have escalated over the past week, some taking place in the centre of Baghdad. Paul Bremer, the chief US official in Iraq, says that they are usually carried out by units of five to seven men. But he said there is no evidence that they are centrally co-ordinated.
This is despite the tape recording of a voice believed to be that of Saddam, claiming that he has been organising resistance.
"There is resistance, and I know you are hearing about this," he said. "Not a day passes without them suffering losses in our great land thanks to our great mojahedin."
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, yesterday said the CIA would assess the tape, and a US intelligence official said the agency could not verify whether it is really the ousted Iraqi leader speaking. The British Government has also said it wants to examine the recording.
The Iraqi leader may not be playing any role in organising the guerrilla attacks, but the US - which on Thursday offered $25m for information leading to his capture - clearly believes that the failure to find him is contributing to the insecurity in Iraq. However, it is unlikely that Saddam could stay so well hidden if he was communicating with the resistance leaders.
So far attacks have been sporadic, but they are rapidly becoming more sophisticated. Last week 18 US soldiers were wounded when four mortar bombs landed in their headquarters at an airbase near Balad, north of Baghdad.
The devastating explosion in Ramadi is a major blow because reviving the Iraqi police force to establish security is a central aim of the occupation authorities. Looting has never stopped, though it is now on a smaller scale. People are still frightened to go out at night.
The vast majority of Iraqis have no desire for Saddam to return,but almost nobody is better off since his removal.
The low-level guerrilla warfare and the continuing failure to restore electricity and water have convinced the Coalition Provisional Authority - as the occupation administration is known - that it must revive at least part of the Iraqi state as soon as possible.
It can only do so by giving real power to a Council of Governance, which is to be announced on 14 July and will have its first official meeting on 20 July. It will appoint 22 ministers, and either have a single president or a troika of leaders drawn from the three main Iraqi communities: Sunni, Shia and Kurds.
Adnan Pachachi, the 80-year-old former Iraqi foreign minister, who is likely to play a leading role in the council, says its first priorities will be to establish a well-paid police force and to pay salaries to other government employees.
The US has become much more willing over the past two weeks to give real power to an Iraqi interim administration, probably because it sees that the attempt to rule by military force alone is failing.
The White House may also fear that the trickle of casualties is eroding support in the US for its whole policy in Iraq.
Another week, in war and words
The gulf between the wishful thinking of politicians and military and events on the ground grows ever wider, reports Nick Smyth
Sunday, The spin
"Will the problems and attacks spoil the victory achieved by the Americans? Of course not ... It is a certainty Saddam's regime is gone." Gen Tommy Franks, retiring head of Central Command
Two US troops injured and an Iraqi civilian killed in an attack on a military convoy en route to Baghdad Airport ... Insurgents ambush US patrol near Khaldiyah using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Soldiers return fire but attackers get away ... Troops block off Baghdad bridge after bomb alert.
Monday, The spin
"There are so many cartoons where press people are saying 'Is it Vietnam yet?' hoping it is and wondering if it is. And it isn't."Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence
In Fallujah, a van fires an RPG at a Bradley vehicle. Soldiers return fire and kill one man ... Massive sweep for suspected Saddam loyalists enters second day ... Insurgents fire RPG at a Humvee in Fallujah, injuring a journalist; three Iraqis killed when truck slams into vehicle helping evacuate him.
Tuesday, The spin
"Conditions in Iraq continue to improve. Freedom becomes more entrenched and the dark days of the Baathist regime further back in people's memories." Paul Bremer, US administrator in Iraq
Massive explosion rocks al-Hassan mosque, Fallujah, killing eight Iraqis. The Imam, Sheikh Laith Khalil, dies later ... In Baghdad, a bomb explodes near an army vehicle, wounding four ... An RPG slams into a US truck south of Baghdad, with four casualties.
Wednesday, The spin
"A quagmire? No ... These actions against the coalition forces won't succeed and will be dealt with ... There is no question of attacks leading to a pullout." Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary
Two US soldiers die, one from injuries in an attack on Tuesday, one in an accident ... One US marine killed and three injured during mine-clearing in Karbala ... US army detains 20 "high-value" targets, and seizes armoury, including 200 RPGs ... In Fallujah, troops try to convince residents they were not behind Tuesday's mosque blast.
Thursday, The spin
"There is still a war going on ... But there is no crisis. We can handle it. We're killing them on a daily basis when they attack us." Maj Gen Ricardo Sanchez, US ground forces commander
Firefight between a sniper and a US patrol in Baghdad wounds one soldier. Troops return fire, killing the gunman and injuring a child ... US vehicle in Baghdad hit by RPG. Troops return fire, killing a bystander ... Sniper kills a US soldier guarding a Baghdad museum ... Iraqis fire mortars at the US base near Balad, injuring 18.
Friday, The spin
"Our nation is still at war. The enemies of America plot against us ... With our involvement, tyrants learn to fear, and terrorists are on the run." George Bush to troops on Independence Day
Attackers detonate an explosive on a highway in the outskirts of Baghdad, injuring three civilians and two US soldiers ... US troops kill 11 Iraqis who tried to ambush a military convoy near Balad ... Al-Jazeera airs a message purported to be from Saddam, vowing more attacks on Americans: "No to surrender."