HILLA, (Reuters) – A car bomber killed at least 16 people and wounded 41 on Thursday at a police building in the mainly Shi’ite city of Hilla, sources said, as Iraq braced for revenge attacks after U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden.
Iraq’s army and police have been on high alert since American forces shot dead the al Qaeda leader and security officials said they had received intelligence that the Sunni Islamist group’s Iraqi wing would carry out revenge attacks.
The suicide bomber rammed his car into the entrance of a police headquarters in the centre of Hilla during a shift change at around 6:40 am (4:40 a.m. BST), when many police officers were outside the building.
A police official in Hilla, 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad, said 16 people were dead and 41 wounded. An Interior Ministry source in Baghdad put the toll at 16 killed and 50 wounded and a hospital source in Hilla said 21 had been killed and at least 80 wounded.
Iraqi officials often give conflicting tolls.
“These events happen on a daily basis in Iraq and nothing could prove that it has anything to do with the killing of bin Laden. These are routine events in Iraq. Security breaches, we are used to them,” the Interior Ministry source said.
Iraq has been a major battlefield for al Qaeda since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Dozens of bombings and other attacks are still mounted each month, although U.S. and Iraqi officials says al Qaeda in Iraq has been severely degraded in recent years.
Attacks on the army and police are rising as they prepare to take sole responsibility for security ahead of a full withdrawal of U.S. troops by December 31, more than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Blast walls in front of the police quarters in Hilla had collapsed and the building was badly damaged, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. Most of the dead and wounded were police.
Other buildings on the main road, including shops and houses, were also damaged.
“The negligence comes from Baghdad because we’re always asking them to increase the number of our policemen, but there is no response,” Kadhim Majeed Tuman, the head of the Babil provincial council, told Reuters.
Tuman put the toll at 13 killed and 43 wounded.
Dr Amer Ajerash, head of Hilla’s main hospital, said it had issued 16 death certificates so far. Another hospital source said conditions in the hospital were miserable.
“There are a lot of wounded and martyrs,” the source said.
Last month, gunmen laid siege to a provincial council headquarters in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit. Fifty-eight people were killed and at least 98 wounded.
On Monday four people were wounded when a sticky bomb attached to a car exploded in Hilla.