By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 26, 2007
BAGHDAD, Feb. 25 -- A suicide bomber detonated a belt of explosives Sunday afternoon at a university in Baghdad, killing dozens of students, in the second large-scale attack on a college campus in the capital this year.
At least 39 students and nine guards were killed in the blast at the college of administration and economics of Mustansiriya University in northwestern Baghdad, according to Fadil al-Amiri, the school's administrative dean.
Last month, at least 70 people were killed in a bombing at the university's main campus.
"The students were coming very happy, very enthusiastic, anxious to take their exam," the dean said in a telephone interview. "It is catastrophic. They're like ripe flowers, just starting their lives."
The attack was one of the deadliest in the capital since stepped-up security measures in the capital officially took effect on Feb. 14. U.S. and Iraqi officials have taken measures to limit vehicle access to markets, government buildings and other sites frequently targeted by insurgents using car bombs. But the officials have expressed concern about the difficulty of intercepting suicide bombers with explosives strapped to their bodies.
Universities in Baghdad have remained open despite a string of threats, attacks and kidnappings targeting students and professors. Amiri said he spent the afternoon visiting injured students at hospitals.
"I knew these people," he said. "They considered me their guide. They are preventing people from coming to study in order to disable the education system."
Hours after the bombing, a statement attributed to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr criticized the security plan. The statement, issued in the holy city of Najaf, said that "bombs continue to explode" under a plan "controlled by the occupiers," a reference to the United States.
The statement expressed support for Iraq's security forces and called for reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites. Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia, is widely seen as a wild card in the success of the security plan.
"You are capable of protecting Iraq and its people with your faith, your sacrifice, your patience, your unity and your love, and not by the occupier and his tanks and planes," the statement said. "The security plan will not be good if it is controlled and ruled by our enemies, the occupiers."
Also Sunday, a spokesman for Iraq's Oil Ministry said a draft of the country's much-anticipated oil law still faces a potentially lengthy legislative review process. Kurdish officials announced Saturday that they had endorsed the draft bill, which still must be considered by a committee headed by the prime minister's office, said Assem Jihad, the Oil Ministry spokesman.
Fouad Hussein, a spokesman for the Kurdish regional government, said Sunday that Kurdish officials -- key participants in negotiations on the law -- conveyed their endorsement of the draft in a letter sent to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He said Kurdish officials asked that national oil policy rely on two separate bills: one that focuses on the industry and another that sets rules for distributing oil revenue.
"The two laws must go together to the parliament," he said.
Maliki had promised that the law would be passed by the end of 2006.
U.S. officials, who have pressured Iraqi officials to enact the law, expressed support for the agreement. "Any movement toward agreement is welcome," said John C. Roberts, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. "Given the complexities of the full range of oil and gas issues, as well as the financial ramifications and the technical issues that need to be addressed as Iraq modernizes its energy sector, good progress has been made already."
Also Sunday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was flown to the Jordanian capital to undergo medical treatment, according to a statement issued by his office. His aides said he had traveled to Amman for a round of checkups after becoming sick "due to the exhausting continuous work during the past few days."
Special correspondents Naseer Mehdawi, Naseer Nouri and Yasmin Mousa contributed to this report.