BAGHDAD, Oct. 1 -- The wails echoed off the tile surfaces of the emergency room at Yarmouk Hospital. Amid the blood and stretchers, Majeed Aboud turned his tear-stained face to the body of his 5-year-old son, Mohammad, one of at least 34 children killed when a car bomb exploded as they gathered around U.S. soldiers handing out candy and cakes in a southern Baghdad neighborhood.
The child's thin body was covered by a sheet. The sheet was covered with blood.
A police officer warns people away from the site of a bomb attack in a Baghdad neighborhood where a new sewage treatment plant was being opened.
(Khalid Mohammed -- AP)
Photo Gallery: Bombings rock Baghdad and kill at least 34 children
AP Report: U.S. forces attack suspected Fallujah safe house.
"My boy was playing around with other kids when the first car bomb exploded," Aboud said when he recovered the ability to speak. "I brought him here, but they could do nothing for him."
"Why? Why?" a mother asked as a doctor bent over the bloodied chest of Russul Abbas, whose entire front was perforated by bits of metal smaller than dimes. "Why does this have to happen to my 8-year-old kid?"
Even for September, a month that saw more than 40 car bombs detonated in Iraq, Thursday's violence was extraordinary for its callousness and the number of innocents killed. At least 41 people died, including an American soldier. U.S. forces bombed Fallujah and mounted a surprise offensive overnight to retake Samarra, another restive Sunni Triangle city. Arabic-language news channels reported that kidnappers claimed to have taken 10 new captives.
But it was the young victims -- by far the most children killed in one incident since the U.S.-led invasion 17 months ago -- who galvanized the capital.
Most had gathered around American soldiers after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new sewage treatment plant, an event designed to show that not all the news in Iraq is bad. The soldiers were passing out sweets to the children.
An officer of the Iraqi National Guard, which was responsible for securing the area, said a Nissan pickup truck parked near the plant apparently was detonated by remote control. Half an hour later, as parents carried away the wounded and ambulances pushed through the throngs who rushed to help, a gray Daewoo sedan nudged into the crowd and exploded.
Ten Americans were reported wounded at the scene, two of them seriously. Afterward, as volunteers searched the ground for bits of flesh to fold into plastic bags, outrage so often directed at U.S. forces in the wake of such attacks was thrown wholly toward those most directly responsible.
"What kind of resistance is this?" Majeed Hameed, who lost a child, shouted again and again at the hospital. "Why do they attack children?"
Late in the day, a Web site known as a clearinghouse for Islamic militants posted an assertion of responsibility for three "heroic operations" by Monotheism and Jihad, the organization headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who U.S. officials say has links to al Qaeda.
The claim jibed with the number of sites car-bombed Thursday.
The first blast occurred about 8:30 a.m. outside the municipal building in Abu Ghraib, the Baghdad suburb where a sprawling prison is located. As three U.S. military combat vehicles entered the municipal compound, a truck laden with gasoline and explosives exploded, killing a U.S. soldier and two Iraqi police officers and damaging a heavily armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle, according to the U.S. military. Three Americans and 10 Iraqis were wounded.
"I could see bodies flying in the air," said Salman Fadhel, a municipal worker. "When I heard the blast, I thought it was doomsday."