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Sunni Group Condemns Bombing

Authorities warn that death toll may rise after worst-yet insurgent attack.
By Yaseen Madhloom

A leading Sunni group has strongly condemned a car bombing in Hillah that claimed at least 125 lives in the deadliest insurgent attack in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.


In a statement, the Muslim Scholars’ Association called for an end to all attacks targeting Iraqi civilians.


“The association announces that terrorist acts targeting innocent Iraqis should be forbidden, no matter who is behind the attacks and what the pretext is,” said the group, which led a boycott of Iraq’s elections.


The association also extended its deepest sympathies to the families of those killed in the February 28 suicide bombing. A further 150 people were wounded in the attack.


Police say the bomber detonated a car loaded with explosives outside a government office where police recruits were waiting to receive their physical examination in Hillah, a city 100 kilometres south of Baghdad. A busy market nearby was also hit, adding to the number of casualties.


A group calling itself the al-Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on an Islamist website, Reuters news agency reported. The authenticity of the claim could not be verified.


Police arrested several suspects in connection with the bombing.


“The bomber had his hand tied to the steering wheel and remains of the Holy Koran were found near him," said Captain Salam Muhsin, a spokesman for the Babil provincial police department.


Hundreds of people protested in the streets of Hillah a day after the attack, blaming police for what they said were too-lax security measures and demanding more protection.


"The poor work by policemen in the governorate is the reason why this infiltration happened,” said Imad Kadhim, a Hillah resident who witnessed the bombing.


Kadhim said police had closed off all major roads and were confident this was enough to deter attacks. But the suicide bomber came in along a secondary road.


Dr Mahmood Abduradha told IWPR that people in Hillah were overwhelmed by the extent of the damage. Many of the bodies could not be identified because the remains were badly burned or dismembered.


"The corpses were collected, loaded into trucks and moved to hospitals," he said.


Hillah’s health department used loudspeakers mounted on cars and in mosques to urge people to donate blood. Medical teams from the nearby cities of Najaf, Karbala and Diwaniyah rushed to the city to help, and the Iraq Red Crescent Organisation sent emergency aid and equipment.


Health authorities in Hillah warned that the death toll could rise further, as many of the injured remained in a critical condition.


Yaseen Madhloom is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.