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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Suicide Bomber Kills at Least 25 at Baghdad Police Station - New York Times

Suicide Bomber Kills at Least 25 at Baghdad Police Station - New York TimesJuly 24, 2005
Suicide Bomber Kills at Least 25 at Baghdad Police Station

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 24 - A suicide truck bomb rammed into barricades at a police station here in the middle of a raging sandstorm today, killing at least 25 people and injuring at least 33 others, Iraqi officials said. The American military said at least 40 people died.

The attack came as Sunni Arab leaders involved in the drafting of the new constitution said they were ready to end their boycott of the process, which began last week after two Sunni colleagues were assassinated in downtown Baghdad. The Sunni leaders said the original constitutional committee, made up almost entirely of Shiites and Kurds, had agreed to the conditions the Sunni Arabs had set for their return. The Sunnis say they expect an agreement in writing, and a meeting between the groups was set for Monday morning to formalize the accord.

"We put in writing our demands to return, and we got a promise that those demands will be fulfilled," said Ayad al-Samarraie, one of the Sunni politicians.

Bahaa al-Aaraji, a Shiite member of the drafting committee, said, "We will reach a new agreement at 8:30 tomorrow."

As a first step in their re-engagement, the Sunni Arabs have formed a commission of legal experts to review the latest draft of the constitution and recommend changes, Mr. Samarraie said. The return of the Sunni Arabs to the writing process is considered crucial to lending legitimacy to the constitution, which the parliament must approve by Aug. 15 before it goes to a national referendum in October. Without the participation of Sunni leaders, the constitution could be rejected by Sunni voters, who would then boycott the elections for a full-term government scheduled for December.

The Bush administration is relying on the political process to help quell the raging Sunni-led insurgency, which is fueled by deep-seated feelings of disenfranchisement that first arose after the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

The attack at the police station today, in the Mashtal neighborhood, was only the latest sign that the guerrillas have little desire of laying down their arms. The bomb struck at about 3 p.m., as a sandstorm swirled around the capital and cloaked buildings and streets with a thick layer of grit. Speeding through the yellow haze, the driver of the truck appeared to cross over a median and slam into barriers outside the station before burst into a ball of fire. People standing nearby were incinerated or peppered with shrapnel, and at least 25 cars were set ablaze, witnesses and an Interior Ministry official said.

A police officer at the scene said body parts were found on the roofs of nearby buildings. The blast left metal parts and glass scattered across the street, atop thick pools of blood, oil and engine fluid. Electric cables dangled from lamp posts.

"I was inside the station when the explosion took place," said Muhammad Naief, 35, a construction worker from Najaf who was visiting at the time. "It was huge. The glass showered our heads. When I got out to the bloody scene, I found my sedan totally damaged, and my cousin who was waiting for me next to it was slightly injured."

At Kindi Hospital, a man covered in dirt and wearing a red-and-white headdress sat on the ground next to a wailing woman in black robes. The man, Majeed Fadel, said he was looking for the body of his son.

"We found the charred car at the scene but never found him," Mr. Fadel said. "I'm sure he died, but I just want to have the body to bury. I sent him out in my car to buy a battery, and then the disaster happened."

The attack was the latest in a series of suicide bombings this month that have left hundreds dead and raised serious doubts about the ability of the Shiite-led government and the American forces to placate the insurgency. Weeks ago, Iraqi and American officials boasted that operations in Baghdad had helped to secure the capital and thwart the bloody designs of the guerrillas. As if in response, the insurgents quickly pulled off several spectacular and shockingly deadly assaults, including a suicide car bombing in Baghdad that left about two dozen children dead and a mosque attack in Musayyib that killed at least 72 people, using a stolen fuel tanker ignited by a suicide belt bomber who dived under it.

The Third Infantry Division, charged with controlling Baghdad, said in a statement that at least 40 Iraqis had been killed in today's bombing. But the statement appeared unreliable because of a quotation condemning the terrorists from an unidentified Iraqi at the scene. That quotation had the exact same language as another anonymous quotation - "They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics" - that also appeared in a statement released earlier by the military about a July 13 bombing.

Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman, said he had "no idea" how that had happened. "I have sent a message out to discuss this with the leadership," he said.

The American military also said today that a marine died in a roadside bomb explosion in western Iraq on Saturday, and a soldier was killed and two were wounded today by a rocket or mortar attack near Balad, north of Baghdad. In the oil city of Kirkuk, a senior police commander was gunned down as he drove through the city, police officials said.

Whether the return of the Sunni Arabs to the constitution-drafting process will help silence the insurgency remains to be seen. Sunni representation in the parliament is abysmal because Sunni Arabs turned out in low numbers in the January elections, and the Bush administration had to pressure the original 55-member constitutional committee - which had only two Sunni Arabs - to add 15 Sunni seats and 10 consulting positions.

One of the new Sunni drafters and a consultant were killed last week, prompting the 14 remaining full members to boycott the drafting until a list of demands was met. The Sunnis said they wanted more government security, an international investigation into the attack, the Shiites to stop saying the constitution was almost finished and a halt to any discussion of the issue of regional autonomy while the boycott was ongoing. It appeared today that the constitutional committee had agreed to those conditions.

Mr. Samarraie, the Sunni politician, said the Shiites had promised to look into the possibility of an international investigation, though it might be a while before such an inquiry actually begins.

Another Sunni drafter, Kamal Hamdoun, said "the atmosphere is generally positive."

More tough negotiations lie ahead, as some of the Sunnis have expressed grave doubts about a recent draft of the constitution. On Saturday, Mr. Samarraie said he was incensed over language that bestowed special honors on the top Shiite religious leaders and that granted special status to "Persians," or Iranians. The Sunni Arabs suspect that the Iranian government is trying to exert its influence here in Iraq through the religious Shiite parties that now govern the country and have deep ties to Iran.

One of the only two Sunnis who has not boycotted the committee, Adnan al-Janabi, said today that he was also disturbed by the same language. "We think that the constitution is not the place to mention such issues," he said.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, a senior cleric, Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheir, said Saturday that the Shiites and Kurds had formed a team to work on constitutional disagreements between them. Those issues include the border of the Kurdish autonomous region and the division of oil revenues. The sheik said there was a separate process by which the Shiites will tackle differences with the Sunni Arabs.

Khalid al-Ansary and Ali Adeeb contributed reporting for this article.

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