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2004-06-17

Baghdad Blast Leaves 35 Dead, 130 Wounded

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At least 35 people have been killed, and over 130 wounded in a car bomb attack at an Iraqi army recruitment centre in western Baghdad. We go to Iraq to speak with Jonathan Steele, senior foreign correspondent for the London Guardian reporting from the bomb site.

At least 35 people have been killed, and over 130 wounded in a car bomb attack at an Iraqi army recruitment centre in western Baghdad. The car, packed with artillery shells, blew up at the gates of the recruitment centre, housed in an old airport. The blast was heard throughout the city.

The health ministry says that 138 people have been injured, many of them seriously. This according to the BBC. Officials say the death toll is likely to rise.

The heavily-fortified Muthenna airport in the west of the city is also used as a military base for US troops. The same recruitment centre was hit by a car bomb five months ago when up to 47 people died.

With the so-called June 30 transfer of sovereignty less than two weeks away, the bombing marks the latest in a series of deadly attacks in Iraq. At least 80 people have killed in June alone.

  • Jonathan Steele, the London Guardian’s Senior Foreign correspondent reporting from the scene of the blast.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to the sight of the bombing. Jonathan Steele is there, "The Guardian’s" senior foreign correspondent. Hi. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JONATHAN STEELE: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us where you are?

JONATHAN STEELE: I’m standing by the gates of the base where the bombing went off a few hours ago and it seems that, in fact, the people were extremely poorly protected. While these huge sandbags were filled, but the people were not standing behind them. They were standing virtual lift in the crowd pushing open the front gates t gates where the cars could drive in and there were several hundred people there. There is one watchtower above the site where they say — I’ve been talking to Iraqi ministry of defense officials, they say the guards up there did see this car suspicious and started to fire at it. And they managed to kill the driver. But the car, it was too late. The car was already primed to go up and exploded and, in fact, those watchtowers are covered in shrapnel and many of these huge sandbags have been toppled over. So, the people have no real defense because they were just standing there like on any sidewalk in any city. They have no real cover.

JUAN GONZALES: Can you tell us a little bit about the atmosphere in Baghdad as the alleged transfer of sovereignty approaches and obviously there are many more attacks and bombings that have broken out in recent days.

JONATHAN STEELE: Well, I think the atmosphere is one of deep pessimism. About two months ago when I was here before, there was — there was some trickle of hope that with the transfer of sovereignty with a new Iraqi government some of the violence would decrease. It would be sort of light at the end of the tunnel. How it is very hard to find anybody who doesn’t think that the violence will go on increasing, not only between now and June 30, the date of the hand-over, but after that as well. They just feel that — they feel very bad, period, now. Security is almost minimal. The Americans can do nothing. The Iraqi forces can do nothing. The Iraqi police can do nothing. People are just bracing themselves for more of the same. So, at least for weeks to come.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jonathan Steele, "Guardian" senior foreign correspondent. What right now are people saying in reaction to this attack, Jonathan?

JONATHAN STEELE: People are in a state of shock. I just came here to the site. I visited the hospital where many of the wounded have been taken. And you get completely different sort of reaction. One man who was lightly wounded, just simply said he had no idea who would do this. And another man, another ward, he was a little bit more heavily wounded, he seemed to be saying that he thought it was outside forces, neighboring countries that have been particularly naming Iran, Syria, and Kuwait. He said they have no interest in seeing stability in Iraq. But then I proceeded to a man who was quite severely wounded and he blamed the Americans. He said the Americans did it. He said he’d been twice before to the same place to recruit into the Iraqi army and was told to come back another day and he said on the two previous occasions, he said there were American forces guarding the area. Well, today, he couldn’t understand why they weren’t there and he drew somehow the conclusions that the Americans have doesn’t it. So, you get these very, very wild and different interpretations. I think people are in a state of shock. They don’t know who’s done it and so any possible conspiracy theories, some just blind theories are pushed forward because basically people haven’t the basic idea and I don’t think the Americans do either.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Steele, I want to thank you for joining us. "Guardian’s" senior foreign correspondent. He is in Baghdad now at the site of the latest suicide attack. That is — that has killed at least 35 people. This is Democracy Now!

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