BAGHDAD, Iraq – At least 47 people were killed Wednesday when a homicide car bomber attacked an army recruiting center in central Baghdad as hundreds of would-be soldiers lined up to volunteer for the military.
Iraq's deputy interior minister, Ahmed Ibrahim (search), said 47 people were killed and 50 injured. He told reporters "this crime" will "not deter the people's march toward freedom."
It was the second deadly attack in two days on Iraqis working with the U.S.-led coalition, following a truck bombing Tuesday against a police station in Iskandariyah (search) that killed up to 53 people and wounded scores, including would-be Iraqi recruits applying for jobs.
The attacks backed threats that insurgents would step up violence to disrupt the planned June 30 handover of power to the Iraqis.
A campaign to accelerate attacks against Iraqi "collaborators" and Shiite Muslims was outlined in a document sent to Al Qaeda leaders that was intercepted by the U.S. military.
The letter was believed to have been written by a Jordanian militant in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who said he sought to spark a Sunni-Shiite civil war in a last-ditch attempt to wreck the handover.
The U.S. military announced a $10 million bounty for al-Zarqawi, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack, Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said.
The Baghdad attack could be part of "the ongoing pattern of intimidation we've seen of late," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the military's deputy operations chief in Baghdad, told The Associated Press. "We have stated numerous times that in the lead-up to governance, there could be an uptick in the violence."
Col. Ralph Baker of the 1st Armored Division (search) said there was no immediate indication who was behind Wednesday's attack, but he said it resembled "the operating technique" of Al Qaeda or Ansar al-Islam (search ), a radical Muslim group linked to Usama bin Laden's terror network.
A U.S. government official in Washington said it's not known who was responsible for the two bombings. "You can't rule out Zarqawi's involvement, but it's more likely the work of former Baathists," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The 7:25 a.m. blast tore into would-be soldiers waiting outside the recruitment center less than a mile from the heavily fortified "green zone," where the U.S. administration has its headquarters. Baker said a man driving a white 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra detonated about 300 to 500 pounds of explosives.
Casualty reports varied. Maj. John Frisbie, spokesman of the 2nd Brigade 1st Armored Division, put the death toll at 36. Iraq's deputy interior minister, Ahmed Ibrahim, said 47 people were killed and 50 injured. He told reporters "this crime" will "not deter the people's march toward freedom." One hospital counted at least 37 bodies, while another reported one more.
Charred debris from the vehicle was scattered across the road in front of the center as a heavy rain soaked troops and FBI agents looking for evidence at the blast scene.
The recruitment center was surrounded by barbed wire and had sandbagged posts in front of it. But around 300 Iraqis were gathered outside the center's locked gates, waiting for it to open, and were completely exposed. Some of them were lined up to join the military and others waiting to depart for a training camp in Jordan.
"I was just telling my buddy that it was very dangerous to be standing here," said Ali Hussein, 22, who was lined up with the others. He lay on a bed soaked in his blood at Karkh Hospital, his body shaking as he gasped for air.
He said he saw the white Oldsmobile approaching the crowd. "Then I felt nothing but fire around me." His legs were covered in bandages, and he had broken bones.
Ghasan Sameer, 32, an officer in the new Iraqi army who was also among the wounded, said the car drove into the crowd and ran over some people before exploding.
It was at least the ninth vehicle bombing in Iraq this year. U.S. forces have been preparing the Iraqi police and military to take a larger role in battling the anti-U.S. insurgency that has been blamed on supporters of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and foreign Islamic militants.
Tuesday and Wednesday's blasts came as a U.N. team was visiting Iraq, trying to work out differences between Iraqi factions on how to pick a new government ahead of the planned transfer of sovereignty. Frisbie said the attackers seek to make the world think Baghdad is unstable "especially in the eyes of the visiting U.N."
The Iraqi Governing Council said the two attacks aim to "destabilize Iraq and impede the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis. They want to keep Iraq occupied and kill our hopes of establishing a democratic system in the country. ... Our determination to proceed with our plans is undiminished."
In the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded when a U.S. convoy passed Wednesday morning. An SUV in the convoy was damaged, and witnesses said four people in the vehicle were injured.
Gunmen firing Wednesday from a car attacked an office of the Democratic Assyrian Party (search) in Mosul, injuring one security guard, according to party member Napoleon Fatou. The party represents a Christian community and has a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that attacks on Iraqi security personnel have not deterred more from wanting to join. "We find people are still lining up, volunteering, interested in participating and serving," Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington.
At Karkh Hospital, relatives outside the gates shouted the names of missing loved ones to officials inside.
The morgue's two refrigerators were stacked full of bodies, wrapped in blood-soaked sheets and piled atop each other.
"I used to serve in the old Iraqi army, and I wanted to rejoin because I love my country, the great Iraq. There is no safety or security and I wanted to protect the people," said Abbas Hussein, 39, one of the wounded in the Iskandariyah attack. "We were all happy and excited."
Tuesday's bombing in the predominantly Shiite Muslim town of Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, reduced parts of the police station to rubble and damaged nearby buildings. At least 53 people were killed.
Swannack said Iraqi police reported that the driver in the Tuesday attack was bearded and appeared to have been a Wahhabi, or hardline Sunni Muslim.
Wahhabism is the strict, fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam from which Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden draws spiritual direction. Based in Saudi Arabia, its followers show little tolerance for non-Wahhabi Sunnis and Shiites.
"Iskandariyah is right on the line between Sunni and Shiite, so the attack there might be trying to foment some kind of civil war," Swannack said.
Insurgents have mounted a string of car and homicide bombings in recent weeks. The deadliest so far has been in the northern city of Irbil on Feb. 1 when two homicide bombers blew themselves up at two Kurdish party offices celebrating a Muslim holiday, killing at least 109 people.
On Jan. 18, a homicide car bomb exploded near the main gate to the U.S.-led coalition's headquarters in Baghdad, killing at least 31 people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.