Suicide Car Bomber Kills Iraqi Children

7/13/2005 5:32:20 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide car bomber sped up to American soldiers distributing candy to children and detonated his explosives Wednesday, killing up to 27 other people, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. One U.S. soldier and about a dozen children were among the dead.

At least 70 others, including three U.S. soldiers, were injured in the attack, Iraqi and U.S. officials said. It was the second major suicide bombing in Baghdad this week. A suicide bomber killed 25 people Sunday at an army recruiting center.

The fireball from Wednesday's blast also set a nearby house ablaze, the U.S. military said. The attack stunned the impoverished east Baghdad neighborhood of mostly Shiite Muslims and Christians.

At Kindi hospital, where many of the dead and injured were taken, one distraught woman swathed in black sat cross-legged outside the operating room. "May God curse the mujahedeen and their leader," she cried as she pounded her own head in grief.

Hospitals and police said between 11 and 13 children were killed. Authorities scrambled to compile a count of the dead and injured.

"The explosion was mainly on the children," resident Abbas Ali Jassim said.

A U.S. soldier assigned to Task Force Baghdad also was killed, the military said. At least 1,759 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003.

The vehicle used in the attack was a brown Toyota Land Cruiser with a license plate from the southern city of Basra, police said.

In a separate attack Wednesday, a roadside bomb exploded near an American patrol in eastern Baghdad, killing a 7-year-old child and seriously wounding a woman, police said.

In September, 35 Iraqi children were killed in a string of bombs that exploded as American troops were handing out candy at a government-sponsored celebration to inaugurate a sewage plant in west Baghdad. It was the largest death toll of children in any insurgent attack since the start of the Iraq conflict.

However, many of the families of children killed in September blamed the Americans because their presence attracted insurgents to the ceremony.

Following Wednesday's bombing, charred remains of an engine block wrapped in barbed wire sat in the road. A child's bicycle was crumpled beside the street, which was splattered with pools of blood.

An elderly woman dressed in traditional black beat her chest in front of her house in grief.

"There were some American troops blocking the highway when a U.S. Humvee came near a gathering of children, and U.S. soldiers began to hand them candies," said Karim Shukir, 42. "Then suddenly, a speeding car bomb showed up and struck both the Humvee and the children."

Hours after the attack, about 200 people turned out for the funeral of five of the victims, in keeping with Muslim tradition to bury the dead quickly. The crowd shouted "Allahu akbar!" _ "God is great _ and some fired weapons in the air.

A U.S.-Iraqi military operation launched in May has significantly reduced suicide bombings in the capital. But U.S. and Iraqi authorities acknowledge that it is difficult to eliminate such attacks entirely.

In other violence Wednesday, gunmen killed an Iraqi soldier while he was driving in western Baghdad, police said. Two other Iraqi soldiers, including one lieutenant, were killed in a gunfight in another west Baghdad neighborhood.

Separately, coalition forces in Baghdad have captured Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's top lieutenant in Baghdad, Abu Abd al-Aziz, Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."

Meanwhile, a senior Interior Ministry official acknowledged that up to 10 Sunni Arabs suffocated in a police vehicle while in custody and said those responsible will stand trial.

The incident has angered many Iraqis at a time of rising tension between Sunnis and the Shiite-dominated government. Their deaths are among many complaints of abusive treatment by Iraq's U.S.-trained security force.

Nine or 10 Sunni men reportedly suffocated after being held for several hours in a vehicle that lacked oxygen following an attack against an Interior Ministry patrol Sunday in west Baghdad.

Temperatures at the time soared to about 113 degrees. Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the head of intelligence department at the Interior Ministry, said the men appear "to have died after the vehicle's engine was turned off, stopping the air conditioning."

A member of an influential Sunni group also said Iraqi security forces stormed several houses in Baghdad early Wednesday and detained 13 people, including a Sunni cleric, before torturing and killing most of them.

One of the dead was a Shiite Muslim and the rest were Sunnis, said Sheik Hassan Sabri Salman of the Association of Muslim Scholars.

An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of government policy, said an investigation had been launched in the latest allegation.

Later in the day, the families of the dead collected the bodies from the Baghdad coroner's office and buried them, the cleric and witnesses said. The Shiite was taken to the southern holy city of Najaf where members of his sect are usually buried, they said.

About 1,600 people have been killed in violence since April 28, when Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced a new government dominated by Shiites and Kurds. The minority Sunnis make up the core of the insurgency.

Associated Press reporters Sameer N. Yacoub, Mariam Fam and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.