By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
BAGHDAD, Oct. 29 -- The policemen had assembled for the morning roll call when the bicyclist pedaled into view.
He was wearing sweat pants and a black T-shirt, witnesses recalled, and some people knew enough to start running as he glided toward them.
"Suicide bomber! Suicide bomber!" people at the police headquarters shouted as the blast thundered across Baqubah, an embattled provincial capital north of Baghdad.
The explosion Monday killed at least 28 policemen and wounded 17 policemen and three Iraqi civilians, according to the U.S. military, making it the deadliest insurgent attack in Iraq in more than a month. The last mass-casualty attack struck Baqubah in late September, targeting a reconciliation meeting and killing at least 25 people.
"This attack is typical of al-Qaeda's barbaric and hateful ways -- targeting Iraqi Security Forces who have been working to secure Baqubah and enable progress," Col. David W. Sutherland, the U.S. military commander in Diyala province, said in a statement. The Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has been responsible for many deadly attacks similar to Monday's bombing.
Many of those targeted in the bombing were recent police recruits. Across Iraq, the U.S. military has urged Iraqis, especially Sunnis, to join the police force in an effort to pull people away from the insurgency and to balance out the predominantly Shiite-run security forces. Such attacks can have a chilling effect on efforts to bolster the police force.
One police captain in Baqubah, Nayel al-Taie, vowed to honor the deaths of his colleagues and refused to be swayed by the attack. "I and my colleagues will continue to do our job and protect the stability and security of Iraq," he said.
Taie said he had just left the battalion headquarters when he heard the shouts that a suicide bomber was approaching. "I shouted out as loud as I could, 'Disperse! disperse!' but then the explosion happened," he said. Shrapnel dug into his right arm and back. His skin was burned.
He said that many of those wounded and killed were new recruits from two neighborhoods that were among the most violent until U.S. military reinforcements flooded into Baqubah earlier this year. Since then, al-Qaeda in Iraq's grip on the city has been greatly reduced.
The attack on Monday "shows the grudge this group holds against all Iraqis," he said.
An 11-year-old boy, Alaa Kassim Mohammed, was walking to school when he was hit. As he moaned in pain from his hospital bed, his father asked doctors if they were going to amputate his foot. "This suicide bomber wanted to attack those policemen because he thinks they are apostates, but what did he do wrong to deserve this? He is still 11 years old and he became a cripple," said his father, Kassim Mohammed, a security guard. "Is this Islam?"
Meanwhile, a spokesman for tribal leaders in Diyala province said all but one of 11 sheiks kidnapped in eastern Baghdad on Sunday had been freed. The spokesman for the mostly Shiite al-Salam Support Council, Hadi al-Anbaki, said a joint U.S. and Iraqi military operation on Monday had discovered the tribal leaders in the Shaab district of northeastern Baghdad. One of the men kidnapped, Haroon al-Muhammadawi, an imam in the al-Salam area of Diyala province, had been found dead the day before, Anbaki said.
The U.S. military accused Arkan Hasnawi, a former commander with the Mahdi Army militia, of responsibility for the kidnappings.
In a separate development, a mortar shell fell on a soccer field in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, killing two boys and wounding seven others, according to Iraqi police.
A U.S. Army one-star general was wounded by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, Army officials said. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey J. Dorko, commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, sustained injuries when a bomb detonated near his convoy, operated by the private security contractor Erinys International, according to an Army news release.
The private security team evacuated Dorko and another soldier to a U.S. military hospital in the Green Zone, the release said. Dorko, in stable condition, was later evacuated to the Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, it said. It is highly unusual for a U.S. officer with the rank of general to be injured in Iraq, and none has been killed there, the officials said.
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson in Washington, special correspondents Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Muhanned Saif Aldin in Tikrit, and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.