Bloodstains mark the site of a blast where several hundred job applicants… (Baraa Kanaan, European…)
Reporting from Baghdad and Tikrit, Iraq — At least 60 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up beside a line of people applying for police jobs in Tikrit, the hometown of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, officials said.
An additional 160 people were wounded when the attacker set off his explosives in a crowd of applicants and their families, according to police and medical officials. Mosques called for blood donations and some of the wounded were sent to hospitals as far away as Mosul, about 120 miles to the north. Police swarmed the area of Tikrit after the explosion.
The attack was the deadliest of its kind since a deal in November cleared the way to form the current Iraqi government.
Militants from Iraq's onetime Sunni Arab elite have long opposed efforts to recruit members of their sect to positions in the new security forces, and have used violence and intimidation to thwart them. In the western province of Anbar, the Sunni Muslim region's governor narrowly evaded a bomb attack Monday.
Armed groups see the nation's Sunni community as a recruiting pool to fight against the Shiite Muslim majority, which has come to hold the state's levers of power since Hussein's fall in 2003.
The Tikrit bomber had pushed his way close to the front of the line of several hundred people before detonating his explosives, according to Salahuddin province police Cmdr. Hamad Namis. The blast killed recruits as well as a police first lieutenant and another police officer who had been taking people's applications.
Residents expressed anger about what they saw as lax security measures, particularly the decision to hold a recruitment drive in the very center of Tikrit, and they felt the attack underscored the weaknesses in Iraq's forces.
"This explosion shows the big security infiltration and violation. They cannot control all of these people. They don't have any observation or inspections" of the crowd, said Mohammed Ahmed Jaboori, 25. "As you see, the place is open and in the middle of the street."
U.S. forces, now serving in a support role to the Iraqi police and army, are scheduled to leave the country at the end of the year, and the Iraqi government has yet to decide whether it needs an American troop presence after 2011 as it combats extremist groups.
Officials in Salahuddin blamed the group Al Qaeda in Iraq for the bombing and also chided the security forces.
"This criminal act that happened in the province today is one of [the] acts of the terrorist Qaeda organization," said provincial council member Ahmed Abdul Jabbar Ali. "In the Salahuddin council, we will meet and discuss the dangerous situation in order to find out how the violation occurred and to punish the negligent security personnel."
Some officials pointed out that the government has yet to appoint security ministers nearly a month after most of the new Cabinet was announced. The two largest blocs, belonging to Shiite Islamist Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his rival, secular Shiite Iyad Allawi, have been unable to agree on choices to lead the Interior and Defense ministries.
Times staff writer Parker reported from Baghdad and special correspondent Rasheed from Tikrit. Staff writer Salar Jaff contributed to this report.