A Bloody, Devastating Day: Violence Kills 72

Soldiers Stand Near Car Bomb Attack
U.S. soldiers stand near the covered body of a victim after a car bomb attack in Baghdad's Mansour district Wednesday. (Namir Noor-eldeen - Reuters)
By Jonathan Finer and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 12, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 11 -- The laborers in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit walked toward the slow-moving car before breakfast Wednesday morning, hoping that someone inside might offer them a day's work. Instead, the vehicle erupted in a fiery explosion that cut them down.

About 40 miles north and two hours later, dozens of young men outside an army recruitment center in sleepy Hawija met a similar fate when a man ran toward them and detonated explosives he had strapped to himself. And here in the Iraqi capital, four car bombs shook the city before noon. After one of those explosions, a sniper fired on Iraqi police who arrived on the scene.

In all, at least 72 Iraqis died across northern and central portions of the country Wednesday. The death toll over the past two weeks neared 400, making it one of the most violent periods since the U.S. invasion two years ago.

Iraqi officials say the wave of violence is timed to capitalize on political uncertainty during the long transition to a new Shiite Muslim-led government. Negotiations over who would hold senior positions began in late April.

The goal of insurgents "is to destabilize the country," said Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari. In selecting new ministers, Jafari struggled to satisfy the demands of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, particularly Sunni Muslims, from whose ranks the bulk of the insurgents are drawn.

The number of insurgent attacks has roughly doubled since March to 70 a day, while tips leading to the capture of perpetrators have also increased, according to Kubba. He acknowledged, however, that "in the short term, there is nothing that would enable the government to stop these attacks."

Wednesday's bombings came as a U.S. Marine offensive near the Syrian border in western Iraq continued for a fourth day. In a string of villages near the town of Rummana, north of the Euphrates River, commanders reported that insurgents and foreign fighters had largely dispersed.

"The area appears devoid of military-aged males. It's mostly women and children," said Col. Bob Chase, operations chief for the 2nd Marine Division, which is leading the assault. "We are focusing our attention on what is basically their own underground railroad, what we call the ratlines, which are basically smuggling routes and places where people could be hiding."

Abu Karrar, 41, who said he was an Iraqi member of the insurgent group al Qaeda in Iraq, told a reporter near the town of Karabilah, where Marines were operating, that "we use the same method they use. They use what they call multinational forces, and we use our brothers, the Arabs and Muslims."

Four Marines were killed and 10 wounded in the area when a bomb exploded under their armored vehicle.

The heaviest casualties Wednesday occurred in two Sunni strongholds north of Baghdad where sympathy for insurgents runs deep.

In Tikrit, the car bomber struck at 6:30 a.m., killing 32 people and wounding more than 90, according to doctors at Tikrit General Hospital.

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