BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber killed dozens of men Tuesday as they waited to apply for jobs with the Iraqi army, in a devastating attack that highlighted concerns about stability as U.S. troops withdraw and Iraq's politicians continue to bicker over the formation of a new government.
It was the bloodiest single bombing in months and came less than two weeks before the deadline for the reduction of the U.S. force to 50,000 and the formal end of the U.S. combat mission on Aug. 31.
Iraq's Ministry of Interior put the death toll at 48, with 145 injured, but hospital officials said as many as 61 people had been killed.
The massive explosion occurred on the last day of a weeklong army recruitment drive that had drawn thousands of men to an open square opposite the heavily guarded recruitment center, in an army headquarters in the ancient Bab Muadhem district of downtown Baghdad. Many of the men had been sleeping in the square for days to await their chance for an interview, giving insurgents ample time to plot an attack.
Shortly after 6:30 a.m., as an Iraqi army officer approached to select the day's first batch, the bomber struck, detonating an explosives vest among the crowd and triggering scenes of panic and carnage, witnesses said.
"It was a very huge explosion. Pieces of bodies flew everywhere. A stampede started and then soldiers started shooting in the air, increasing everyone's fear," said Abbas Jarallah, 22, who was among those who had been waiting for a job.
Fuel truck blown up: Police said eight people were killed and 44 wounded Tuesday when a bomb attached to a fuel truck blew up in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. Officials at two hospitals confirmed the casualties.