By Sudarsan Raghavan and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 12, 2006 6:50 AM
BAGHDAD, Dec. 12 -- A powerful car bomb exploded in central Baghdad early this morning near a crowd of mostly Shiite day laborers, killing 59 people and wounding 149, Lt. Col. Mahmoud Abdul Aziz of the Iraqi Interior Ministry said.
Major Gen. Jihad Habri said on state television that the blast came from 120 kilograms of explosives packed into a Chevrolet pickup truck. The bomb was detonated in Tayaran (Aviation) Square about 7 a.m., a time when scores of day laborers gather looking for construction, cleaning or painting work.
Iraqi officials said they believe there was only one blast, although initial reports from witnesses on the scene suggested there may have been two.
It was the deadliest attacks in the capital since a series of car bombs, mortars and missiles in the Shiite slum of Sadr City killed more than 200 people Nov. 23. Ten days ago, a triple car bombing in a busy shopping district killed at least 51 people and wounded more than 90.
This morning's blast "was a huge explosion," said Mohammed Jabbar Yousef, 37, a shopkeeper whose store is just across the street from the blast site.
"People were running in every direction," Yousef said, speaking in Arabic, through an interpreter. "They were clutching their heads, legs and hands. There was blood everywhere."
Iraqis gather on the square each the morning to wait for minibuses or private cars that hire them for the day as construction workers, cleaners or painters. They can buy breakfast at stands on the square.
The square is near several government ministries, about a mile away and across the Tigris River from the heavily fortified Green Zone where Iraq's parliament and the U.S. and British embassies are located. It has been targeted by bombs on a smaller scale at least two other times during the nearly four-year conflict.