Blast Kills 40 as Cleric Assails Baghdad Plan

By DAMIEN CAVE and WISAM A. HABEEB

New York Times

February 25, 2007

BAGHDAD, Feb. 25 — A suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives and ball bearings blew himself up at a Baghdad university today, killing at least 40 people and strewing fingers, pens, purses and bloody textbooks all over the ground.

The blast, at a campus of Mustansiriya University, was one of several bombs and explosions to hit Baghdad today, making it one of the worst days of violence since Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki announced a new security crackdown.

And an hour later, a new challenge emerged for the prime minister and the Baghdad security plan he has helped devise, and which has been widely praised as the most focused effort yet to reduce the city’s relentless bloodshed.

Moktada al-Sadr, the renegade Shiite cleric, condemned the plan in a signed statement declaring that it had no hope of success as long as American troops were involved. Read aloud to 1,000 shouting supporters in Sadr City, the large Shiite area near the site of the university blast, the statement called on Iraqi security forces to stop cooperating with the United States military.

“There is no good that can come from a security plan controlled by our enemies, the occupiers,” said the statement. “If you stay away from them, God will protect you from horror and harm. Make sure your plans are purely Iraqi and not sectarian.”

Mr. Sadr has long maintained public opposition to the American presence in Iraq, yet he has also expressed support for the security plan in recent weeks, ordering his militia not to fight when U.S. troops enter their neighborhoods. His latest comments come after weeks of cooperation with the plan and seem aimed at distancing himself from a plan that has yet to bring calm to the city.

The bomb at the university exploded at 12:40 p.m., 10 minutes before the second exam of the day, at the women’s entrance to the campus, which focuses on accounting and administration.

Officials and witnesses said the bomber approached the campus through a middle pathway, between the separate entrances for men and women. When he was discovered and questioned, he moved quickly toward the women’s building, detonating his explosives just in front the women’s security checkpoint.

The blast shattered glass all the way through the surrounding buildings, from front to back. An hour and a half later, blood, fingers, torn purses of female students, bloody textbooks and steel ball bearings were all over the ground.

Inside the room of the security building closest to the blast, where women are checked before being allowed in, a pool of water was red with blood.

About 10 American Humvees, along with Iraqi Army vehicles, were deployed about 200 yards on either side of the blast site. Initially, Iraqi police said they were searching for a second suicide belt.

About 25 yards to the left of where the explosion hit on the campus, small holes had been dug in a circle around a flower bed. A middle-aged man, Hussain Ali al-Mousawi, a blacksmith who lives across the street from the university, was collecting body parts on a notebook, placing severed fingers and flesh on pages covered with students’ notes on subjects like income brackets. His shirt was covered with blood. He said he had been carrying bodies, and the orange cotton of his right sleeve was soaked bright red.

He walked over the holes that had been dug, and placed shovelfuls of clothing and fingers into the ground.

“I don’t know what they’ve done to deserve this,” he said. “What have they done wrong?”

Falah Hasan, 35, a third-year management student, stood nearby and expressed defiance, blaming Syria, Saudi Arabia and other countries for sowing destruction in Iraq. He said that Iraqis would not give up.

“We are burying here the minds of our society,” he said. “We are planting them anew. How many of our great minds have they killed? They are targeting the students who are carrying pencils — our dirty neighbors.”

“We shall reconstruct the great Iraqi mind from the beginning. This land will produce more minds than ever.”