Insurgents Land Deadliest Blow Since Fall of Hussein's Regime

By MONA MAHMOUD and TERENCE NEILAN

New York Times

February 28, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 28 - A suicide car bomber drove into a line of about 400 volunteers for the Iraqi National Guard and police force today in Hilla, south of Baghdad, killing at least 122 people and wounding at least 170, an official at the Interior Ministry said.

It was the deadliest single attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

The volunteers were waiting for medical checkups at about 9 a.m. in front of Hilla's main medical center.

The crowded area lies at the site of the town's major market and government buildings, and some of the fatalities are believed to have included people shopping at market stalls.

Recruits for the national guard and the police have been frequent targets of the insurgents, who are regarded as aiding the United States in the occupation of Iraq.

Maki Kahdum Rahdi, a spokesman for the Hilla health directorate, said casualties were evacuated to three hospitals as the town's main medical center could not contain all of them.

"We have finished now transporting the bodies from the site," Dr. Mahmoud Abdul Ridah, an official in the directorate, told Reuters. Some patients already in the hospitals were evacuated to accommodate the new arrivals, the agency reported.

"We've called on people to donate blood and have opened a center for that," Dr. Ridah was quoted as saying. "We've called on doctors from Kerbala, Diwaniya and Najaf to come and help and they have started to arrive."

A witness to the attack, Muhammud Abdul Ridha, said there was a huge crowd of men waiting for medical checkups in an area of Hilla called Bal al-Hussein. The suicide bomber, driving a white Mitsubishi, set off a huge blast, he said.

The police in Babil Province said "several people" had been arrested after the blast, but did not elaborate, The Associated Press reported.

Reuters and The A.P. said television footage produced by their agencies showed large pools of blood outside the medical center in Hilla, about 60 miles south of the capital, and bodies being piled into the back of flatbed trucks.

Reuters said television pictures showed nearby market stalls still on fire or smoking soon after the blast.

Elsewhere, an Iraqi civilian was killed and two others were wounded today when small-arms fire broke out between the Iraqi police and insurgents in Baquba, the American military reported.

The military also said that an American soldier died on Sunday, 40 minutes after being shot while manning a traffic control point in southern Baghdad.

Twin attacks last March involving three suicide bombers in Baghdad and one bomber in Kerbala killed more than 170 people and wounded nearly 400.

On Feb. 17, 2004, 117 people were killed and 133 were wounded when two suicide bombers struck in Arbil at the offices of the two main Kurdish factions in northern Iraq.

Mona Mahmoud reported from Baghdad for this article, and Terence Neilan from New York.