Suicide bombers killed 50 police recruits in central Iraq and 49 Shiite pilgrims in the south yesterday, a stepped-up attack as politicians worked to form a coalition government. Five US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb.
The two-day death toll from attacks rose to 163, a surge of violence not seen since before the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Iraq's prime minister denounced the violence as an attempt to derail the political process. The country's mainstream political parties hope a new, broad-based government will weaken the insurgency.
A statement from the US military said only that the soldiers were patrolling in the Baghdad area. But Iraqi police Captain Rahim Slaho said a US convoy headed for the Shiite holy city of Karbala had been attacked 35km south of the city and that five soldiers were killed. No names were released pending notification of family members.
The suicide blast yesterday near the Imam Hussein shrine in central Karbala, 80km south of Baghdad, killed 49 people and injured 52, Karbala police Colonel Razaq al-Taie.
In the attack's aftermath, a woman and an infant girl in a bright red jumpsuit lay in a pool of blood, their faces covered by a sheet. Television images showed men ferrying the wounded in pushcarts. The bomber appeared to have set off the explosion only about 30 meters from the shrine in a busy pedestrian area surrounded by shops.
In Ramadi, a US spokesman said dozens were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a line of about 1,000 police recruits. Marine Captain Jeffrey Pool initially put the death toll at about 30. Mohammed al-Ani, a doctor at Ramadi General Hospital, later said 50 people had been killed.
The attack took place at a police screening center in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 115km west of Baghdad. Pool said recruits later got back in line to continue the screening process.
In other violence yesterday, a suicide car bomb killed three Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad, Lieutenant-Colonel Thamir al-Gharawi said, and gunmen killed three people in separate incidents, police said, raising the death toll yesterday to 110. Attackers killed 53 people on Wednesday.
The Karbala bomber detonated a vest with about 8kg of explosives and several hand grenades, al-Taie said. Small steel balls that had been packed into the suicide vest were found at the site, as was one unexploded grenade, he said.
Many pilgrims travel to Karbala on yesterdays to be at the holy site for Friday prayers. One pilgrim, Mohammed Saheb, said he travels to Karbala every Thursday.
"I never thought that such a crime could happen near this holy site," said Saheb, who sustained a head injury. "The terrorists spare no place from their ugly deeds. This is a criminal act against faithful pilgrims. The terrorists are targeting the Shiites."
Speaking from a hospital bed where he was being treated for burns and bruises, Akram Saleh, a vendor, said he lost consciousness after the explosion.
"I was selling toys near the shrine when I flew into the air because of the explosion," he said.
Al-Khazraji blamed "takfiris and Saddamists" for the Karbala attack. The takfiri ideology is followed by extremist Sunni Muslims bent on killing anyone considered to be an infidel, even fellow Muslims who disagree with their doctrine. Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a takfiri. His group has often targeted Shiites.