By Aziz Alwan and Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 18, 2010; A06
BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber infiltrated a crowd of young Iraqi army applicants Tuesday and detonated explosives, killing at least 51 people and wounding 104 others in an early-morning attack two weeks before U.S. forces are scheduled to end their combat mission in Iraq.
As hundreds of men lined up in central Baghdad to hand in documents on the last day of a week-long application process, the bomber slipped into the crowd in an open area outside Iraq's former Defense Ministry building, now an army recruitment center and military base. A U.S. military training team is based in the building near the site of the 6:30 a.m. blast.
Late Tuesday, 10 people were killed and 46 injured in what police described as an explosion caused by a short circuit in a generator in the northeastern neighborhood of Ur. Witnesses said that a broken generator exploded but that it may have been rigged with explosives.
Police said the fire was caused by a short-circuit, but witnesses said a bomb attached to the generator exploded.
The attack at the army facility, the bloodiest in the capital in months, underscored uncertainty about the readiness of Iraq's security forces two weeks before U.S. troop levels are scheduled to drop to 50,000. Nearly six months after inconclusive elections, Iraq remains without a new government, and violent attacks and assassinations are on the rise.
Gen. Stephen Lanza, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the political impasse "fosters and encourages violent extremism, such as that seen in today's wanton murder of those volunteering to serve their country" and that he expects attacks to continue until it is resolved.
Bill Burton, deputy White House press secretary, said the bombing would not halt either Iraq's transition to democracy or the U.S. troop withdrawal. Both are "firmly on track," he said.
There was no immediate assertion of responsibility for the bombing. In an interview with an Arabic news channel, Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi military spokesman, blamed al-Qaeda in Iraq, accusing the group of trying to create "chaos." Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for an official investigation, according to a statement by the Baghdad Operations Command.
The upper body of the suspected suicide bomber was found at the scene of the blast, and a witness described him as a young, blond man who walked up to an officer taking identification cards and blew himself up among the applicants, the Associated Press reported. At Medical City, the main hospital in Baghdad, people filed in and out of the morgue in a daze. There was no electricity inside, and at least 50 bodies were stacked in 115-degree heat.
A young man named Ahmed walked outside after finding his brother dead. He cursed the Iraqi security forces as others around him blamed the government.
"Tens of young people are being slaughtered every day, and you filthy bastards are watching," he screamed at the soldiers outside. A relative pulled him away.
"This won't bring your brother back," he said.
"They always do this to our sons," said Mohammed Abu Ali, 55, as he searched for his nephew at the hospital. "They gather them in the middle of nowhere without any protection and kill them in cold blood. It will never stop. Never."