BAGHDAD, Iraq – Car bombers targeted Iraq's security services Thursday, blasting Iraqis hoping to join the military in Baghdad and a civil defense post north of the capital, killing 41 people and wounding nearly 150.
Most of the victims were poor Iraqis desperate to take dangerous jobs in the Iraqi security forces because of a lack of alternatives in a country with up to 45 percent unemployment. They took their chances at the recruitment center in Baghdad even though a car bombing killed 47 people there in February.
"I have been coming for three weeks and they decided to interview us today," Abdul Wahid Shadhan, 32, said as he lay in a hospital bed coughing up blood. "I heard a big explosion, I lost sight of everything and then I found myself in the hospital."
Shadhan said he had been out of work since the Americans disbanded the Iraqi army last year. "I was obliged to work as a porter to feed my seven children," he told The Associated Press.
Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem al-Shalan promised a "house-to-house" search for anybody involved in planning the attack.
"We will cut off the hands of those people, we will slit their throats if it is necessary to do so," he told reporters. "For those people who want to join the new Iraqi army, we will protect them and we will find them a safe location so they can submit their applications."
Thursday's attack near the recruitment center — the deadliest single blast since a car bombing at the same base in February — came amid a surge of violence targeting American troops and their Iraqi allies ahead of the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.
The attacks are apparently designed to shake confidence in Iraqi security forces, seen by some in the region as beholden to the Americans.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search), here for talks with the Iraqi leadership, promised that American troops would support the new government after the handover because "Iraqi security forces are not ready to assume their job."
In the Baghdad attack, a white sport-utility vehicle packed with artillery shells exploded near a gate of a sprawling Iraqi security compound. The base is close to the Muthanna airport on the western side of the Tigris River.
The explosion scattered bodies, blood and debris across a four-lane highway outside the base, shared by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (search) and the U.S. military. No American troops were hurt.
Col. Mike Murray said 175 recruits inside the walled compound also escaped injury but many of the victims had just gotten off a bus at about 9 a.m.
At least 35 people died and 145 were wounded, and the toll was likely to increase, health ministry official Saad al-Amili said.
"We were standing waiting for our turn to register," Rafid Mudhar told the AP from his hospital bed. "All of a sudden, we heard a big explosion, and most of those standing fell on the ground, including me."
Another car bomb exploded Thursday afternoon in a village near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, killing six Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members and wounding four others, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division said. The defense corps is the main internal security force, created by U.S. administrators to battle insurgents.
That bombing came a day after a rocket slammed into a U.S. logistics base near Balad, killing three U.S. soldiers and wounding 25 other people, including two civilians.
Also Thursday, a Hungarian soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in a predominantly Shiite area south of Baghdad — Hungary's first military death in Iraq. An Iraqi police officer died in a separate explosion Wednesday near a fire station in Musayyib, a restive, religiously mixed town south of the capital, the Polish-led multinational force said.
More than 300 people have been killed in attacks on police stations and recruitment centers since September. In the most lethal attacks, five bombings near police stations and a police academy in Basra killed at least 68 and wounded 200.
Despite the dangers of jobs in the military, civil defense and policy, U.S. and Iraqi officials say there is no shortage of volunteers. Jobs in the security services pay $300 to $500 a month depending on a person's rank — comparable to salaries for teachers and other civil servants.
In Mosul, Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq conflict, alluded to the problems within the Iraqi security forces, whom the Americans hope will assume ever greater responsibility for maintaining law and order after a sovereign government takes power.
Wolfowitz told reporters that the coalition's role after July 1 will be to support Iraqi security forces.
"Iraqi security forces are not ready to assume their job, and until they are, you can count on us," he said.
Iraq's interior minister, Falah Hassan al-Naqib, linked Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) to the Baghdad attack and accused foreigners of being behind the 20 car bombings that have shaken the country since the start of June. He offered no new evidence.
U.S. officials suggest that the accelerated pace indicates that al-Zarqawi's network has shifted from complex, cataclysmic bombings to more frequent attacks against less protected targets.
Security at American and coalition facilities is formidable, with blast walls, earthen barricades and well targeted fields of fire. Many Iraqi facilities lack such measures.
The bombings have alarmed the people of Baghdad. Most are convinced that the attacks are carried out by outsiders — even by Americans who they say hope to weaken Islam and find a pretext to stay in this oil-rich country.