BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqis seeking jobs with security forces were targeted once again Thursday when a bomber with explosives strapped to his body mingled among hundreds of men and blew himself up in one of four attacks that killed 26 people.
The attacks are part of a surge of violence that has killed more than 200 since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) announced his new government last week with seven positions still undecided.
Many recruitment centers, to prevent car bombings, have been turned into small fortresses surrounded by concrete blast walls and razor wire. But militants are striking back with an old weapon: the suicide bomber belt.
The Cabinet held its first meeting Thursday. Al-Jaafari aide Laith Kuba (search) said the seven vacancies, including the key oil and defense ministries, would be filled by Saturday and parliament would be asked to vote on them Sunday.
In the deadliest attack, police said an insurgent blew himself up outside an army recruitment office a half mile from Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone (search), home to government offices, foreign embassies and U.S. forces.
At al-Yarmouk Hospital, the morgue was overflowing with mangled bodies after the blast. One man lay screaming on his bed — both his legs had been blown off. Pools of blood covered the floor.
"While we were standing in line, a man walked ... right up to the heavily guarded entrance gate, as if he wanted to ask the guards a question," said Anwar Wasfi, who was injured on his leg and arms. "Suddenly an explosion occurred, and I was knocked over. I passed out and opened my eyes wounded in the hospital"
At least 13 people were killed and 20 wounded in the blast, Lt. Salam Wahab said at the recruitment center.
A similar attack Wednesday, in which a bomber blew himself up in a line of police recruits in the northern city of Irbil, killed 60 Iraqis and wounded 150.
Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman, spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said there has been an escalation in the use of suicide belts since security was stepped up around recruitment centers and other insurgent targets. Recent raids in and around Baghdad uncovered some assembled car bombs, he said, and foiled many attacks.
"But it is rather difficult to find out about an explosive belt put on by a person," Rahman said.
On Jan. 30, Iraqis voted in historic parliamentary elections and private cars were banned from the streets; there were nine attacks that day by bombers who had explosives strapped to their bodies.
Insurgents often target Iraqi security forces, which are being recruited and trained by the U.S.-led coalition as part of its exit strategy in Iraq. An estimated 1,800 Iraqi soldiers and police officers were killed between June 2004 and April 27 this year, the latest date for which statistics were available, according to figures compiled by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
At least nine policemen were killed in two attacks in western Baghdad on Thursday.
In the first attack, gunmen fired on a patrol in the Amil area, killing eight policemen and wounding two, police Maj. Mousa Abdul Karim said. About 15 minutes later, a car bomb exploded near a police patrol in nearby Ghazaliyah, killing one officer and wounding six, according to Karim and a U.S. military spokeswoman, Sgt. 1st Class Danette Rodesky-Flores.
Another car bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad's southern Doura neighborhood, destroying a large truck but causing no American casualties, Rodesky-Flores said.
Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded near a police patrol in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing four policemen and wounding five, police and the U.S. military said.
Al-Jaafari had hoped to lure support away from the insurgency by including in his Cabinet members of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority, which dominated under Saddam Hussein. But members of his Shiite-dominated alliance have blocked candidates with links to Saddam's regime, which brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds.
While most of his 37-member Cabinet was sworn in Tuesday, bickering continues over the seven undecided posts.
Lawmakers from al-Jaafari's United Iraqi Alliance said agreement has been reached on who would fill the oil and electricity ministries, which are destined for Shiites.
Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, oil minister in the former U.S.-appointed Governing Council, will return to the position, said Ali al-Dabagh, a Shiite lawmaker involved in the talks. Mihsin Shlash, an independent Shiite lawmaker, will be electricity minister, al-Dabagh and two other lawmakers said.
Al-Jaafari's aide, Kuba, confirmed the posts had been filled, but declined to discuss names.
The U.S. military also said its forces searched a hospital in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, last week for suspected terrorists after receiving a tip, but none was found.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was no evidence that Iraq's most wanted militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was ever at the hospital, and the raid was not based on information that he was there.
Conway said the military has been unable to confirm reports that al-Zarqawi was wounded in a firefight or was otherwise injured or sick.