By Andy Mosher and Khalid Alsaffar
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 14, 2005
BAGHDAD, July 13 -- Inside the morgue at Kindi Hospital lay the remains of Amjad Kudeer. Flying shrapnel from a suicide car bomb struck him in the head and chest Wednesday, killing him instantly. He was 13.
Outside the door to the refrigerated room, Amjad's sobbing mother called his name over and over, as if trying to summon him back to life. Then she looked up and asked: "What did he do to deserve this? They are killing children. Why? Why?"
Amjad and more than a dozen other children from east Baghdad's al-Khalij neighborhood made up the majority of the 27 people killed when a suicide bomber drove into a crowd that had gathered around U.S. soldiers who were handing out candy and small toys, police said. The attack also killed one soldier, according to the U.S. military, and wounded at least 50 people.
In north Baghdad, meanwhile, 11 Sunni Muslim men were found dead hours after being arrested by Iraqi police, according to the head of the government agency that administers Sunni religious affairs.
The suicide bombing occurred at 10:50 a.m. in al-Khalij, a mostly Shiite Muslim district adjacent to a U.S. military base in the Iraqi army's former Rashid Barracks. Two Army Humvees had parked in the street, and their crews blocked off a small area with razor wire and began giving gifts to children who immediately swarmed around them. A speeding Suzuki sedan plowed into their midst and exploded, turning a festive scene into one of carnage, witnesses said.
"The kids were laughing and playing with the solders when the suicide bomber drove his car bomb very fast into the crowd and blew himself up, killing all the kids who were around the soldiers, and some cleaners who were there," said Ali Hussein, a police officer.
The attack was grimly reminiscent of one last September, when several bombs detonated at a ceremony celebrating the opening of a sewage plant, killing 35 children who were accepting candy from American soldiers. In addition, it was the second suicide bombing in Baghdad in four days to kill more than 20 people. On Sunday, a man wearing an explosive belt blew himself up at the entrance to a military recruiting center, killing at least 21 people.
Iraqi security forces and foreign troops have been frequent targets during the nearly two-year-old insurgency in Iraq. But Hussein, who was shot in the right leg last week in an attack that killed another officer, said targeting children was beyond comprehension. "I do not know how anyone in the world -- whether they believe or do not believe in God -- could do something like kill a kid," he said. The attackers "are after us and the American forces, and we understand that because we are after them, too. But how could they hurt those innocent kids?"
A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Russ Goemaere, said in a statement that "the terrorist undoubtedly saw the children around the Humvee as he attacked. The complete disregard for civilian life in this attack is absolutely abhorrent."
The car bombing also destroyed two houses, killing several people inside. Ahmad Kareem, 17, said he had been in one of the houses with six members of his family when the bomber struck.
"I was sitting in the living room, and there were some U.S. soldiers and Hummers outside. The kids gathered around the solders," Ahmad said afterward, a bandage around his head and his shirt covered with blood. "All of a sudden I heard a big boom, and my head started bleeding. The house became dark, as if the night had come back again, and black smoke was the only thing I could see."
Ahmad said he was the only one in the house who had been able to come home from the hospital. "Thank God, no one died, but my oldest sister is in critical condition," he said.
In the north Baghdad neighborhood of Rabee, 11 Sunnis who had been taken from their homes Wednesday morning were found dead, said Adnan Dulaimi, a Sunni leader who heads the government's Sunni Endowment. "We ask the government to investigate, as these people were arrested at dawn during curfew time without any warrant. Now, when anyone is arrested, his family expects him dead within a few days," Dulaimi said.
The Reuters news agency reported that angry mourners carrying the coffins of three of the men through the streets put the number of dead at 13 or 14 and said the bodies showed signs of torture. The Iraqi Interior Ministry said the incident was being investigated, Reuters reported.
Iraqi police have been accused of abuses with increasing frequency in recent weeks, notably the deaths by suffocation of 10 Sunni men who were arrested Sunday and left in a shipping container in Baghdad's searing heat. Sunnis accuse the police, made up predominantly of Shiites because many Sunnis have shunned any association with Iraq's government, of carrying out sectarian vendettas. Police officials have denied such accusations.
After the suicide bombing Wednesday, most of the dead and wounded were taken to nearby Kindi Hospital. While the parents of Amjad and other children who were killed bitterly mourned their losses, those whose loved ones had been spared were thankful.
As Zahra Abdulla walked slowly behind the wheelchair that was carrying her son, Talal Ali, 9, out of surgery on his wounded left leg, she recalled the bedlam she witnessed when she rushed out of her house upon hearing the explosion. "Blood and bits of flesh were everywhere. I was lucky I found Talal and brought him here," said Abdullah, 28. "Thank God, his condition is better than the others. I feel terrible for the other boys. Why are they attacking children?"
In the shattered neighborhood, children's shoes and sandals lay in the street. Piles of ruined possessions pulled from the wrecked homes still smoldered a few hours after the attack. Neighbors argued over whether the Americans should be blamed for attracting the children and creating a target.
A woman whose son had been wounded and taken to the hospital said responsibility lay solely with the insurgents and their leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi. "I swear to God," said the woman, who identified herself as Umm Salam, "if my son dies, I will drink from Zarqawi's blood."
Special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Bassam Sebti contributed to this report.