By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
BAGHDAD, April 2 -- A suicide truck bomber rammed into a police station compound near an elementary school in the northern city of Kirkuk on Monday, killing 15 people, including schoolgirls, and wounding scores of others, witnesses and police reported.
At the main hospital in the city, the courtyard was filled with injured children in bloodstained blue uniforms, a Washington Post special correspondent reported from the scene. Many had their heads and arms wrapped in bandages. Some clutched bloodstained books. A baby girl lay dead in the emergency room from shrapnel that had torn through her body. Doctors and nurses broke into tears because they couldn't save her.
Naz Omar Shafiq, a fifth-grader, said she was attending her last class when the explosion rocked the Raheem Awa school, nestled in a majority Kurdish neighborhood, shattering glass and filling classrooms with smoke.
"I saw two of my girlfriends, who were sitting near the window, lying on the floor bleeding. They could not talk or move," she recalled. Flying shrapnel and glass struck her head and legs. "I was so scared. I screamed, crying for my mother and father."
The attack came a day after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed "cautious optimism" that progress was taking place in Iraq under a nearly seven-week-old security offensive. His comments followed a heavily guarded visit with a Republican congressional delegation to central Baghdad's Shorja market.
In Kirkuk, the driver rammed his explosives-filled truck into the compound of the Federal Criminal Investigations office, police and witnesses said. The powerful blast around noon damaged many buildings, including the school and homes, said Brig. Munis Ishaak, a top police commander in the area. At least 15 policemen were among the 87 injured. Most of the dead were civilians and children, Ishaak said.
Sherzad Faqieh, an injured policeman, said U.S. troops were visiting the compound when the explosion tore through the front of the building. "Glass shrapnel flew in all directions, hitting me in the face. We saw nothing but the fire and shooting afterwards," Faqieh said. "A number of American soldiers were wounded, I saw that."
The military said in a statement Monday night that one U.S. soldier was killed in the bombing but made no reference to injured troops. A U.S. military spokesman could not be reached for comment late Monday night.
A suicide bomber attacked the previous police headquarters six months ago, which prompted its move to the current location, Ishaak said.
Also Monday, a Shiite official said that Iraq's top Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, was against a draft law that would permit former members of the Baath Party to regain their government jobs or get pensions. Ahmed Chalabi, a former deputy prime minister who heads the Supreme National Commission for De-Baathification, said he met with Sistani and other senior Shiite clerics Sunday in Najaf.
"The grand ayatollahs said it is dangerous for the criminals to return to leading posts in the state,'' Chalabi told reporters in Najaf on Monday.
But Monday night, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said Sistani had not issued any statement on the de-Baathification proposal. "I am sure that Sistani goes with the decision of people's representatives at the parliament," Dabbagh told al-Arabiya television network. "I do not think that Sistani wants to take the role of the parliament."
"No one can represent the political vision of Sistani even if it came from his deputies," he added.
The de-Baathification proposal is a key benchmark in the Bush administration's calculation for achieving stability in Iraq. It is intended to appease members of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority and draw them away from the nation's insurgency and into the political process. The law would preclude Baathists facing charges or wanted for crimes from seeking positions in the government or military.
If Sistani and other top Shiite clerics rejected the draft proposal, it would be all but impossible to push it through parliament because they hold influence over many Shiite politicians.
In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded Monday morning near a courthouse in the southwest neighborhood of Bayya, killing three and wounding 20.
In Khalis, north of Baqubah, a roadside bomb exploded near a bank, killing 10 and wounding 31, said Capt. Muhannad al-Bawi, a Diyala province police official. And at a restaurant, a suicide bomber killed two and injured five, Bawi added. In the town of Muradiyah, southwest of Baqubah, Iraqi police and military found 19 unidentified corpses on Monday, he said.
By Monday night in Kirkuk, ambulances cruised the neighborhood, with crews calling through loudspeakers for blood donations. Residents said the children were hit because their school was next to the police compound.
"This is the first time I have seen something like this," said Rasmiya Khorshee Tawfiq, a sixth-grader, who was in the school's courtyard when the blast occurred. "As I was going out of the school I saw the bodies of the two girls on the ground, with smoke coming out of their bodies."
Hosniya Wafiq Azad, a teacher, said that she knew she was wounded when she felt blood running down her face.
"I don't know why they target a school, or why they bring a police station next to a children's school," Azad said. "This is an unforgivable crime. We call on the Kurdistan government and the Iraqi government to find a solution for us."
A special correspondent in Kirkuk and special correspondents Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.