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Cox News Service October 01, 2004

Children Killed In An Outrage Eeven By Baghdad Standards

By Larry Kaplow

It was one of deadliest days for children in 17 months of bloodshed in Iraq.

The trauma was palpable Thursday at Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital, where the dead and dying were rushed after a series of cars packed with explosives struck a crowd that had gathered to inaugurate a sewage treatment plant.

At the hospital morgue, burly men lifted a stretcher while other men cried. They carried the tiny, lifeless body of a young girl, her small hand dangling out from under a sheet and her long dark hair spilling over the edge of the stretcher.

In the surgical ward, relatives huddled over stunned and bloodied boys, some crying out, one still too scared to speak and others unconscious, their bodies torn and pierced by shrapnel.

At least 42 people were killed, including 35 children, and 141 people were wounded, among them 71 children, according to the Associated Press. Ten U.S. soldiers were also wounded in the attack, including two seriously.

The carnage surpassed Iraq's already grotesque standards and came on the final day of one of the country's bloodiest months since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

"The hospital is full of children," said Hussein Abdel Sattar, 27, watching over his wounded 10-year-old nephew Ali Abdel al-Fadli, who was sleeping. "Iraq is getting worse and worse."

"I don't blame the Americans for this but these terrorists are doing these things because the Americans are here," he said. "We need security. We want to be able to go in the streets and feel secure. We want jobs, we want to get rid of the terrorists."

Earlier Thursday, a car bomb attack on a U.S. convoy in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad killed two Iraqi police and one U.S. soldier. Another car bomb apparently targeting the police chief in the northern city of Tal Afar killed four Iraqis.

At least 40 car bomb attacks occurred in Iraq in September, a record number according to U.S. officials, as the country seemed to descend deeper into chaos.

In a radio interview, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the violence in Iraq is "getting worse." He said he expects attacks to increase with the approach of Iraqi elections, scheduled for January.

September was an especially deadly month for U.S. troops. According to the Web site GlobalSecurity.org, a military research group, at least 78 soldiers died in Iraq in September, the fourth most fatalities in one month since the U.S.-led invasion.

In a press conference, Barham Saleh, the deputy interim prime minister, said Iraq was under an "onslaught of terrorism."

At the inaugural ceremony for the sewage treatment plant in Baghdad's al-Amel neighborhood, U.S. troops and a crowd of Iraqis had gathered for the festivities.

Witnesses said the American troops were offering candy to the children and were preparing to leave when the bombers attacked. U.S. soldiers offer treats as a common icebreaking technique while working in Iraqi neighborhoods, often seeking to overcome the animosity and suspicions of the locals.

Two cars a few minutes apart crashed into the scene, their bombs exploding, followed by a third bomb _ which may have been planted in the road or detonated in a moving car.

The bombs left large, 6-foot wide craters in the street. Flesh, blood and car parts were scattered across the area.

At the hospital, relatives of the wounded children responded with shock and anger.

"Why are they bringing children and putting them all around them in celebration, to clap?" said Hassan Salman al-Jabouri, 34, whose nephew Abdel Rahman, 11, lay naked and pocked with lacerations. The boy came in and out of consciousness, at times crying.

"They were joking with the children, even playing soccer with them," said 13-year-old Hassan al-Maksusi, with large bandages wrapped on his shoulder and leg. "I don't feel anything." He lost a friend, Ahmed Shakur, in the blast.

"It was like a trap," said Salah Kathem al-Mousawi, 53, joining others pointing blame toward the Americans.

The bombing came as Iraq was likely to be a key issue in Thursday night's debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry. Iraqis were aware of the debate and many planned to watch it.

Also Thursday, the al-Jazeera network showed a video of a militant group, the Islamic Army of Iraq, claiming it had captured 10 hostages, including six Iraqis, two Lebanese and two Indonesian women.

Before dawn, a U.S. air strike targeted a suspected safe house in Fallujah for allies of Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to the military. The Associated Press reported sources in Fallujah stating that the bombing destroyed two houses and killed four people.

CNN reported Thursday night that a brigade of U.S. troops and armor launched a major offensive against insurgents in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad. Samarra has been in control of insurgents and off-limits for U.S. forces since May 30.

Earlier this week, dozens of masked gunmen carrying automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades drove through the main streets of Samarra in a show of force. Some carried the black flags Tawhid and Jihad, which is run by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. believed to have ties to the al-Qaida terror network.

A study released Wednesday by the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, which describes itself as a progressive think-tank, was highly critical of the Iraqi situation following the hand-over of power at the end of June.

It noted that since that time, the monthly average of U.S. troops wounded and killed had risen to 747, while the average was 482 a month during the invasion and 415 during the occupation.

(Correspondent George Edmonson in Washington contributed to this report.)


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