BAGHDAD, Feb. 28 -- Early Monday morning, Younis Qasim sent his 10-year-old son to buy vegetables at the market in central Hilla, a city south of the capital. Later, at home with his wife and family, Qasim heard an explosion, immediately thought of his son and ran out to find him.
A huge car bomb had exploded outside a medical clinic, killing at least 115 people and wounding at least 146. It was one of the deadliest attacks of the insurgency, and for Qasim, who hours later had still not located his son, it was a source of both sorrow and outrage.
"I am afraid," said Qasim, 34. "This place should have been well protected. How could the police or army not recognize that? Don't they know this country is full of terrorism?"
The bomb blew up at 9:30 a.m. as people were lining up at the Popular Clinic of Hilla for medical tests required for positions in the health and education ministries and the security forces, said Qais Hamza, police chief of Babil province, which includes Hilla, a bustling city of nearly half a million people 60 miles south of Baghdad. Witnesses said the blast came from a white Mitsubishi sedan parked on the street.
Fire and metal shards from the blast ripped through the crowd of job applicants as well as the nearby vegetable and fruit market, which was filled with women and children shopping for their daily produce.
The clinic and nearby buildings were pocked with holes from the blast; pools of blood collected on the sidewalks and in the street. After the dead and wounded were carried away, men collected the stray shoes, scraps of clothes and bags of the victims and tossed them in a pile. And in an all-too-familiar scene following a bomb attack in Iraq, volunteers grimly picked up body parts and placed them on blankets.
Muhammed Dhia, the director of Hilla Hospital, said 146 people were injured in the attack. Dozens of people are unaccounted for and the number of dead is likely to climb, he said.
Iraqi police barred journalists from speaking with the wounded at the hospital and beat several cameramen who were trying to get inside. A Washington Post special correspondent who was able to enter the emergency room saw patients whose faces were covered in blood. Many of them cried out from the pain of their wounds. Doctors frantically moved among patients. Outside the hospital, anxious family members tried to find out what had happened to their loved ones.
The wounded included not only applicants for government jobs, but also residents of Hilla and the surrounding area who had been seeking general medical care, police officials said.
A second car bomb exploded Monday at a police checkpoint in Musayyib, about 20 miles north of Hilla, killing at least one policeman and wounding nine, according to police and hospital officials in Baghdad where the casualties were taken.
Ali Habeeb, 36, a minibus driver who was being treated at Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad, said he remembered very little about the attack. Habeeb was on a stretcher awaiting surgery on his face, which was cut in the blast. "I was taking some passengers with me, and suddenly a car exploded," he said.
Abid Abbas, 47, one of the minibus passengers, broke his arm in the blast. "A blue car exploded while it was passing the checkpoint," he said. "Most of the injured people are policemen. They have already moved one of the policemen to the morgue."
Khalid Alwan had been sitting in his apartment near the clinic. Alwan, 31, heard the clap of the explosion and realized what had happened just before the windows of his apartment shattered in a spray of glass.
"We were shocked," Alwan said later as he stepped around pools of blood and pieces of flesh. "I don't know what these cowards get from killing all those people."