BAGHDAD, Iraq – Deadly attacks on Iraqi police in both Baghdad and Baqouba on Tuesday killed at least 59 people and injured at least 114 more, but officials believe the death toll is likely to rise.
In Baghdad (search), a car bomb exploded near a police station as dozens of Iraqis were applying to join the force, killing at least 47 people. In Baqouba (search), gunmen opened fire on a van carrying police officers home from work, killing 11 officers and a civilian.
A militant group led by Al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — the man most wanted by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq — claimed responsibility for both attacks in a statement on its Web site and said they were the work of homicide bombers.
"With the grace of God, a lion from our martyrdom brigades was successful in striking a center for apostate police volunteers," the military wing of the Tawhid and Jihad group said in the statement, which could not be verified.
The attacks were the latest attempts by insurgents to disrupt U.S.-backed efforts to build a strong Iraqi police force capable of taking over security in many towns and cities ahead of nationwide elections slated for January.
From April 2003 to May 2004, 710 Iraqi policemen out of a force of around 100,000 were killed. To put that in perspective, in 2003, 148 U.S. police officers died out of a total force of 100,000.
Meanwhile, one U.S. soldier was killed and five were injured when their patrol was attacked with small arms fire on the western side of Mosul Tuesday morning, the U.S. military said in a statement. The injured were evacuated to military hospitals in Mosul and Baghdad.
Two American soldiers were killed and three others wounded when they came under attack Monday from an improvised explosive device and small arms fire in Baghdad.
The military said in a statement that troops belonged to the Army's Task Force Baghdad (search). The dead soldiers' names in both cases were withheld pending family notification.
And in the western city of Ramadi, clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents killed at least eight civilians and wounded 18 on Tuesday, medical officials said. Ramadi is a predominantly Sunni Muslim city where anti-American sentiments are high and U.S. troops and bases in the region come under almost daily attacks.
Meanwhile, saboteurs blew up a junction where multiple oil pipelines cross the Tigris River in northern Iraq on Tuesday, setting off a chain reaction in power generation systems that left the entire country without power, officials said.
Firefighters struggled to put out the blaze after the pre-dawn attack near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. Crude oil cascaded down the hillside into the river. Fire burned atop the water, fueled by the gushing oil.
Deadly Day in Iraq
Tuesday's car bomb exploded by a bustling row of shops and cafes and left a gaping 10-foot crater in Haifa Street — the same central avenue where much of Sunday's violence took place.
The blast devastated buildings and gutted cars near the western Baghdad police headquarters. Though the attack apparently targeted police, many of the 47 dead were people who had been shopping or having a morning meal. At least 114 were wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Saad Al-Amili said.
Paramedics and residents picked up body parts scattered across the street and put them into boxes. Anguished men lifted bodies burned beyond recognition and lay them gently on stretchers. Helicopters circled.
Afterward, angry crowds of young men pumped their fists in the air and denounced President Bush and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search), saying they had failed to protect Iraqis. "Bush is a dog," they chanted.
The morning car bomb in Baghdad ripped through would-be recruits waiting in line at the police headquarters and market-goers. The bomb was inside a Toyota vehicle parked near the market and a short distance down the road from the police headquarters, which was closed to traffic, said Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdel-Rahman.
"Seconds earlier, people were drinking tea or eating sandwiches and then I could see their remains hanging from trees," said Mahdi Mohammed, 30, who was standing outside his barber shop when the explosion went off. "I could see burning people running in all directions."
In Baqouba, gunmen in two cars opened fire Tuesday on a van carrying policemen, killing 11 officers and a civilian, said Qaisar Hamid of Baqouba General Hospital.
It was at least the second recent attack on security forces in Baqouba: On July 28, a car bomb exploded outside a police recruiting center in the eastern, Sunni-dominated city, killing at least 68 people.
Police Work Dangerous in Iraq
In Baghdad, Ali Abul-Amir had been waiting in line to join the police force but had gone around the corner to buy a drink when the explosion went off.
"Such places were targeted before," he said. "I blame Ayad Allawi's government for what happened because they did not take the necessary security measures."
Others, however, directed their anger at the militants.
"Such acts cannot be considered part of the resistance [against American forces]. This is not a jihad, they are not mujahideen," said Amir Abdel Hassan, a 41-year-old teacher. "Iraq is not a country, it's a big graveyard," he said.
The violence has escalated despite the installation of Allawi's government in June and now raises worries over the January elections.
The U.S. military has been training Iraqi police and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members for more than 18 months. But the Iraqis have still been unable to take over the main duties in fighting the insurgency.
The forces' weakness were highlighted in April, when police largely abandoned their stations in the face of an uprising by Shiite militiamen in Baghdad and southern cities. When the militia rose up again last month, U.S. forces carried out the vast majority of the fighting.
After the April disaster, the Army general formerly in charge of training, Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, acknowledged that misguided U.S. methods had wasted almost a year's worth of training.
U.S. commanders now say they're beefing up their training efforts, trying to improve the Iraqi officer corps and supply the security forces with the sort of heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers that they have lacked but that insurgents have had in plentiful supply.
Bush administration officials have also been insisting they have a plan for stopping the insurgency.
Bathsheba Crocker, an analyst with the U.S.Center for Strategic and International Studies, questioned whether U.S and Iraqi leaders have a workable strategy.
"The security situation is chaotic and it seems to be deteriorating," she said, adding that the insurgents' attacks in the capital were "probably very deliberate. No security in Baghdad means there is no security in the country."
"It signifies that the insurgency is growing in sophistication and organization. It is more capable of carrying out all these major and synchronized attacks," she said.
In other developments Tuesday:
—Four kidnapped policemen were released in the southern city of Basra, said an aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. A militant group had threatened to kill the four policemen captured earlier this month if Iraqi authorities did not issue a statement ordering a stop to activities against al-Sadr and his followers. The head of al-Sadr's office in Basra said the kidnappers responded to an appeal he made for the release of the captives.
—The Arab television network Al-Jazeera broadcast footage of a Jordanian truck driver purportedly taken hostage in Iraq. The footage showed three masked men standing behind the kneeling hostage, who held his passport in front of him. The group, which called itself "Brigades of Al-Tawhid Lions," gave the man's employer 48 hours to suspend its activities in Iraq.
FOX News' Amy Kellogg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.