Two hours after the explosion, the fifth grade classroom was silent and deserted, the air still lightly tinged with smoke. Abandoned grammar books lay open to Thursday's lesson, which was also printed on the blackboard. In a rear corner of the room, where a mortar round or rocket had pierced the roof and demolished a small desk, all that remained were a patch of dried blood, a shredded sneaker and some rubble.
At least one student was killed and four were wounded in the attack at the Tigris Mixed Primary School in the well-to-do Mansour neighborhood. In Baghdad, where even far larger death tolls can generate little notice these days, the bombing was a grim and unexplained twist of fate.
"They are supposed to be safe here," said Ziad Nasseri, who was shopping nearby when he heard the blast just after 11 a.m. He ran to the school as frightened students were fleeing the building and found his son, Zaid, 9, whose shirt was soaked with another child's blood.
"At first we thought it was his," the father said, shaking his head and looking down.
A security guard at the school, Taha Ibadi, said that attackers might have been aiming at a company across the street that does reconstruction projects. The incident came on a day in which the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq said that counterinsurgency forces had captured 376 foreign nationals this year, and that a majority were Egyptians, Syrians, Sudanese and Saudis.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that "terrorists and foreign fighters" whose tactics are focused on suicide bombings were the "most lethal" insurgents. One American was also listed among those captured, but the military provided no details about his identity.
U.S. officials reported five American military deaths on Wednesday. Three soldiers died when a roadside bomb exploded near their passing convoy in Balad, north of Baghdad, and one was killed in an incident under investigation in Tikrit after his vehicle caught fire. A Marine died in a suicide car bombing in Karabilah, near Iraq's border with Syria, officials reported.
The military also said Thursday in a statement that a top member of the insurgent group al Qaeda in Iraq was one of 12 suspected insurgents killed in election day fighting around Ramadi, west of Baghdad. It was the first time that U.S. forces have acknowledged killing militants in Ramadi during the Oct. 15 balloting.
The statement said that "recently captured detainees identified" Saad Ali Firas Muntar Dulaymi among the dead, and that he was "chiefly responsible for planning and executing all terrorist attacks on Iraqi and Coalition forces in the Ramadi and Fallujah areas."
Also in Ramadi, al Qaeda in Iraq posted a statement at several mosques saying five of its fighters were killed by fire from a U.S. helicopter Thursday morning. One of those killed was Saudi, the statement said.
Meanwhile, seven Iraqi civilians were killed Thursday when a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle in front of the city hall in Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, as an American military convoy was leaving the building, according to Raad Hameed Mulla Jawad, the provincial governor. Eyewitnesses said that one U.S. soldier apparently was killed in the attack, which they said left a U.S. military vehicle and three Iraqi cars in flames. The U.S. military had no information about the incident.
Elsewhere in Iraq Thursday, the Iraqi government reported that Yasser Sabawi, a relative of deposed President Saddam Hussein, was arrested Wednesday, the first day of Hussein's trial on charges of crimes against humanity. He was found among a crowd of protesters in Tikrit, a northern city near the village where Hussein was born.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr described Sabawi as a major financier for the insurgency who helped channel foreign money to fighters in Iraq.
In Baghdad, masked gunmen kidnapped Saadoun Janabi, an attorney for one of Hussein's co-defendants, Awad Haman Bander, the former chief judge of Hussein's Revolutionary Court. Janabi was taken from his office Thursday, news services reported.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim, Bassam Sebti and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Hasan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.