Suicide bomb kills 25 Iraqi army recruits

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The Independent Online

A man with explosives strapped to his chest killed 25 and wounded 47 people at a Baghdad army recruitment centre in a new surge of violence in Iraq in which at least 50 people died.

The suicide bomber in Baghdad joined a crowd of several hundred young men milling in front of the army recruitment centre at al-Muthana airport where they hand in applications for jobs. It has been attacked seven times before.

Just before 9am the bomber detonated his explosives. Many of the dead and injured were poor Shia young men, desperate for jobs, wearing long white robes most common in southern Iraq. Often in the past, guards at al-Muthana have tried to get job applicants to disperse or at least not form a target, but the recruits simply move across the road where they are still vulnerable.

At least five suicide bomb attacks were made in other areas. Two bombers on the Syrian border killed seven customs officials. A man driving a vehicle packed with explosives rammed it into a convoy carrying Brigadier Saleh Mishaal, police chief of the northern city of Mosul. Brigadier Mishaal was unharmed but four policemen died. Another bomber killed three civilians when he attacked a US patrol near the ruined city of Fallujah, recaptured by US Marines last November. It was not known if there were any American military casualties. In the oil city of Kirkuk, claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, another suicide bomber killed four civilians and wounded 10 near a local authority building.

The explosions show that whoever controls the suicide bombing campaign has the volunteers and the infrastructure to attack anywhere in or near Sunni Arab districts of Iraq. Bombers are given a primary target and - if they cannot reach it - other targets which might be easier to attack, according to an Iraqi official. He said: "Whatever happens they are told not to come back alive."

An ominous sign of growing sectarianism was the massacre of a family of eight Shias, the youngest two years old, who were shot dead in their sleep. Their father, Hussein al-Tarash, who was out at the time, said: "This is because we are Shias. I have no enemies."

He explained that about three months ago he had had an argument with a Sunni Arab barber who insulted Shias. Later the barber was kidnapped and murdered. Mr al-Tarash thought the tribe of the dead man might have held him responsible for the killing and retaliated by murdering his entire family.

Already a low-level civil war is being fought between Sunni and Shia Arabs, with daily tit-for-tat killings. One Iraqi government official said that in Najaf, the Shia spiritual centre, influential local figures admitted to him that they were retaliating against Sunnis and had killed upwards of 1,000 of them. This is still well below the number of Shias slaughtered in bomb attacks or massacred when travelling on the roads.

The insurgents, all belonging to the five million strong Sunni community, appear to be growing stronger because their community feels increasingly under threat from Shias since the election in January. The Badr Brigade, the main Shia militia, may now number 60-70,000 men under arms, according to one intelligence source.

A sign of the confidence of the rebels is that recently they emerged at 5 or 6am in the Dohra suburb of south Baghdad and seized control of three districts for three hours. They only retreated when US military helicopters arrived overhead.

The US and Britain have pressured the Kurds and the Shias, who make up the bulk of the government, to accept Sunni members on to the committee drawing up a new constitution. This has caused deep offence, particularly among Kurdish leaders, who say that Sunnis are seeking to undermine agreements already reached on a federal Iraq.

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