TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) – A suicide bomber wearing a vest filled with explosives attacked Iraqi police recruits on Tuesday in former dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, killing at least 42 and wounding over 100, officials said.
Ahmed Abdul-Jabbar, deputy governor of Salahuddin province, said the attack took place outside a police recruiting center where Iraqi men were lining up hoping to get a job.
“Who else would it be but al Qaeda, who keep on slaughtering us,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “They are the terrorists.”
Abdul-Jabbar put the death toll at 42. Raed Ibrahim, head of the health department in the province, said 45 were killed and more than 150 wounded, while Interior Ministry sources in Baghdad said 50 people had died.
A police source in the city, 150 km (95 miles) north of Baghdad, said the main hospital was overwhelmed. Mosques broadcast appeals for residents to donate blood.
“The hospital theater now is full of dead and wounded young people. Ambulances are still evacuating casualties,” the police source said at the hospital, asking not to be identified.
A police spokesman said that, at the time of the attack, more than 300 people were standing in line with their documents, hoping to get a $500-a-month job as a police trainee.
“There were many killed and wounded. The place was full of dead and wounded guys,” he said.
Overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply since the peak in 2006/07 of the sectarian slaughter triggered after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. But shootings and bombings remain a daily occurrence.
Salahuddin province, home to Saddam’s family, continues to suffer frequent attacks by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents opposed to the Shi’ite-led authorities in Baghdad. Tikrit is primarily Sunni.
Insurgents have stepped up their assaults on Iraqi police and troops since U.S. forces formally ended combat operations last August ahead of a full withdrawal this year.
The assault in Tikrit was the bloodiest since Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki secured backing to form his second government in December. It includes the Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance, which won the most parliamentary seats in an election last March.
Excluding Iraqiya would have angered the Sunni voters and could have led to a surge in violence.
A Salahuddin provincial council worker, Muhanad Abdulrahman, said he rushed out to a balcony when he heard there had been a bomb in the city center.
“I saw a police pick-up truck rush by piled high with wounded people,” he said. “Blood was dripping down the sides of the vehicle and the people in the back were covered in blood.”
Police recruit Murtadha Ahmed said he was standing in line, hoping to get a job, when the attack took place.
“Suddenly I heard a severe explosion. I don’t know what happened after that,” he said. “When I opened my eyes I found myself in the hospital and (nurses) were dressing my wounds.”