By Edmund Blair BAGHDAD, Reuters
A suicide bomber blew up a fuel truck near a Baghdad police station on Monday, killing at least nine people, wounding 62 and destroying cars and buildings.
The Philippines said it had completed the withdrawal of its humanitarian military contingent in Iraq a month ahead of schedule in a bid to save the life of hostage Angelo de la Cruz, a father of eight who guerrillas have threatened to execute.
The pull-out has been criticized by Washington and by Iraq’s interim government, which said Manila was bowing to terrorists.
The Baghdad attack was the latest of at least five suicide bombings over the past week aimed at Iraqi police, National Guard or senior members of Iraq’s new government which have killed more than 35 Iraqis in a seemingly accelerated campaign.
Iraq’s Health Ministry said it had so far recorded nine dead and 62 wounded but expected its death toll to rise. It said bodies were still being brought to hospitals and boxes of remains had yet to be sifted through.
At the scene of the blast, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Bill Salter said between 10 and 15 people had been killed in an attack he said was probably carried out by a suicide bomber.
“We believe it was possibly a fuel-truck type vehicle,” Salter told reporters. Witnesses said they saw a fuel tanker racing towards the police station moments before the explosion.
Reuters Television pictures showed flames still licking the wreckage of burnt-out cars an hour after the blast, and smoke rising from smouldering buildings. Bystanders gathered up the body parts of the dead, filling several boxes with remains.
In the latest assassination of senior bureaucrats, Defense Ministry official Issam Jassem Qassim was shot dead outside his home by three gunmen late on Sunday, a ministry spokesman said, a day after a failed attempt on the life of Iraq’s justice minister which killed five bodyguards.
In southern Iraq a British helicopter crashed, killing one of the crew and wounding two, Britain’s Defense Ministry said.
A official at the Philippine embassy in Kuwait said 34 soldiers left their base in Iraq on Monday. Eleven were withdrawn last week. A few Filipino soldiers are expected to remain in Baghdad to protect the Philippine embassy.
Insurgents are also holding an Egyptian truck driver and perhaps a Bulgarian. One kidnapped Bulgarian has already been killed and hopes are fading for the other. An Egyptian embassy official said he hoped the Egyptian would be released Monday.
But as hopes grew for the release of the Filipino and the Egyptian, it emerged that a Turkish driver had been killed and another was missing and feared kidnapped following an attack on their fuel-truck convoy near Mosul on Saturday.
Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group Tawhid and Jihad, believed to be behind the kidnapping of the Bulgarians, has already killed an American and a South Korean hostage.
Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for many of the deadliest car bombings in Iraq and is the U.S. military’s prime target in the country, with a US$25 million price on his head.