Three Bombers Kill 31 In Iraq

Workers sweep away debris beside a vehicle destroyed in Hilla when suicide bombers detonated explosives among protesting police officers.
Workers sweep away debris beside a vehicle destroyed in Hilla when suicide bombers detonated explosives among protesting police officers. (By Ali Al Maamory -- Associated Press)
By Jonathan Finer and Saad Sarhan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 30 -- The first attacker slipped unnoticed into the gathering of police commandos, detonating explosives that tore through the crowd. As frenzied survivors dashed for the shelter of a nearby building, two other bombers ran with them before setting off simultaneous blasts Monday morning, witnesses said.

In all, the precisely coordinated assault in Hilla -- targeting police officers who were protesting a provincial governor's decision to disband their units -- killed 31 people and wounded 108, according to Muhammed Hadi, a physician at the hospital where most victims were taken.

It was the latest devastating turn in a month of relentless violence by insurgents, who have killed more than 700 people across Iraq since late April. The attack came as a large counterinsurgency operation in Baghdad entered its second day and U.S.-led forces in the capital detained the leader of a prominent Sunni Muslim political party before releasing him and calling his arrest a mistake.

Also Monday, an Iraqi military aircraft crashed in eastern Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement. Four U.S. military personnel and one Iraqi were aboard, but the statement gave no information about their status. The cause of the crash is under investigation, the military said.

The explosions in Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, left the streets of the predominately Shiite Muslim city soaked in blood and strewn with body parts. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the insurgent group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, asserted responsibility in an Internet posting. Its statement praised "two lions" who it said carried out the attacks, but police at the scene said three bombers were involved.

Maj. Gen. Qais Hamza, a provincial police chief, vowed that U.S. and Iraqi forces would soon launch a major operation in response. "We will take revenge," he said.

In Baghdad, U.S. forces stormed the home of the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, Mohsen Abdul Hamid, before dawn and took him into custody with three of his sons, some guests and guards.

The party, which boycotted legislative elections in January, has been negotiating with Iraq's government about increasing Sunni participation in the political process. It held a midday news conference to denounce Hamid's detention.

U.S. troops "broke down doors and mishandled occupants," said Tariq Hashimi, the party's secretary general. "Dr. Abdul Hamid was mistreated in a very bad way, which indicates the savagery of the occupation forces."

Hamid was released after several top Iraqi political leaders -- including President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi -- complained publicly to U.S. officials.

A statement by the U.S. military said the arrests had been a mistake. "Coalition forces regret any inconvenience and acknowledge Mr. Hamid's cooperation in resolving this matter," the statement said.

Hamid said in an interview that he was blindfolded, taken to another location by helicopter and interrogated about his party's politics. "How could they arrest a president of a well-known party and a prominent figure in the neighborhood? How can this be a mistake?" he said on the al-Jazeera television network.

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