Suicide attack on Iraqi Army frustrates Iraqi hopes for security
A suicide attack at an Iraqi Army recruitment center killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 120. Shopkeepers in the neighborhood blamed lack of political progress and called promises of security 'empty.'
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One Iraqi Army officer explained why the area was so hard to secure.Skip to next paragraph
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“All of these alleys lead to residential areas – there are liquor stores, there’s the second-hand market nearby – there are people who sleep on their carts," he said. "We can’t kick them out because its they only place they have to live and work.
“We searched people going in as we’re supposed to, but it seems the bomber was able to infiltrate with the help of accomplices, and the explosives he was wearing were very sophisticated and difficult to detect just by looking at him,” he added.
The Army has broadly frozen hiring as a result of tight budgets, but a special 10-day recruitment drive for support staff attracted hundreds of applicants, who lined up outside the center. The officer, who asked to be called Abu Mustafa, said the bomber detonated himself among a group of about 300 job-seekers who had completed high school. Two other groups of 300 each were split into those with only primary school or middle school education.
“Once we’ve collected their IDs we call them into the ministry, one by one,” the officer said. “The bomber was one of the people who got up and gave us his ID.”
'Why didn't they let these young men into the building?'
Iraqis opening up their shops in the morning dove for cover as the explosives detonated.
“We can’t talk in front of these soldiers,” said one of the shopowners, lowering his voice. “Why didn’t they let all these young men into the building instead of making them line up outside? And then when something like this happens they start increasing security.”
The neighborhood in the heart of Baghdad’s traditional commercial section is already among the one of the most devastated in the city. Not far from the legendary book market on al-Mutanabi Street, it’s a collection of twisting alleys, crumbling historic buildings, and government ministries burned and looted in the 2003 invasion and never repaired.
“We were promised security in this country, but we were cheated,” said Said Bayati, standing in the doorway of his television repair shop across the street from where the attack took place.
“No one would expect to see a massacre of young people – they’ve come just to find a position and a salary, to pay their bills and provide for their families – and they end up in pieces scattered all over.”
US and Iraqi officials say they have expected an increase in attacks around the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims believe God revealed the Koran to the prophet Mohammad and when they fast during daylight hours. The bombing on Tuesday was the worst attack since Ramadan began last week – posing special challenges as it comes this year amid the intense summer heat and lack of electricity.
Iraqis are impatient to see political progress. Elections were held in March, but a government has yet to take shape.
“The government needs to be formed quickly. In the ministries right now, three-quarters of the departments are frozen because they don’t have any new budget,” said Abu Mustafa, the Army officer. “We have nothing to do with politics but the security forces need a strict commander-in-chief who can make the right decisions.”
Sahar Issa and Laith Hamoud contributed to this report.