Bloody Baghdad attack raises big questions

It is the country’s single worst attack this year
and marks a change of tactics to try to stop Iraqis joining the police and
army, just as they are most needed.

American combat troops will pull
out of the country by the end of the month leaving a small force of 50,000 to
train Iraq’s security forces.

However, there has been a spike in
violence and al-Qaeda has warned of an escalation of attacks as the number of
foreign troop’s falls.

Tuesday’s attack, in which a bomber
sat among a queue of 1,000 Iraqi army applicants before detonating his
explosives, was immediately blamed on al-Qaeda.

The potential recruits were lining
up outside an army base established at the Saddam Hussein-era defence ministry
building in the centre of Baghdad. They were being allowed in 250 at a time,
making the recruits and the monitoring soldiers and officers an easy target.

There were about 1,000 applicants
in all, a mark of the desperation for work of many young Iraqi men. It was the
last day of the current recruitment round at the base, headquarters of the 11th
Division of the Iraqi army.

Witnesses said the attacker had
been sitting in the queue set aside for high school graduates for several
hours. When an officer approached asking for identity papers, he triggered the
explosive device, which was packed with nails.

Bodies of the victims were left
splayed and in some cases in pieces across the open space outside the base,
some still clutching their applications, witnesses said.

The central morgue reported it had
received 61 bodies, and hospital officials speaking on the condition of
anonymity say at 154 others were injured.

Failure by the major political
parties to agree terms for a coalition government five months after an inconclusive
general election in March has contributed to the unease. If Iraqiya, a
cross-sectarian grouping that won the support of most Sunnis, is excluded from
senior positions, the level of disillusionment in the militias is likely to
rise.

There have been reports that
al-Qaeda has offered members higher wages to defect.

From 1 September the number of
American troops in Iraq will be reduced to 50,000, in support and training
roles. A final pull-out is scheduled for the end of 2011.

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A wounded man receives first aid treatment at the emergency ward of a hospital in Baghdad, Tuesday.
Photo: xinhuanet
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