BAGHDAD, Iraq – Dozens of schoolgirls were injured and at least one of their classmates killed Monday when a truck bomb targeting a police compound in the northern city of Kirkuk sprayed flaming shrapnel onto the grounds of their primary school just as classes were letting out.
At least 12 people died and more than 130 were hurt in the bombing, the latest in a series of attacks that have hit Iraqi provincial cities and towns amid a security crackdown in the capital.
This one, however, targeted a predominantly Kurdish area, in contrast to a series of lethal bombs last week aimed primarily at Shiite Muslim districts and towns, which killed hundreds.
The attack came amid debate over a government plan to relocate Arab residents of Kirkuk who settled there during a campaign by Saddam Hussein that was meant to dilute the strength of its dominant ethnic group, the Kurds. Now Kurds want the oil-rich northern city to become part of their autonomous region just to the north, but Sunni Arabs and others have raised furious objections.
Elsewhere in Iraq, bombings and other attacks killed at least 11 people and injured scores of others Monday. Several strikes, including two deadly car bombings, took place in Baghdad, where an ongoing buildup of U.S. troops has been concentrated in order to stem sectarian violence.
In a grisly discovery, Iraqi authorities found the bound and gunshot-riddled bodies of 19 men abducted a day earlier at a false checkpoint set up by insurgents near Baqubah, about 25 miles north of Baghdad.
Also Monday, prosecutors in the trial of six former senior officials in Saddam’s government demanded the death penalty for Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, who became known as “Chemical Ali” following poison gas attacks against ethnic Kurds.
The truck bombing in Kirkuk took place in the northern neighborhood of Rahim Awa, just outside a police compound that houses a special criminal-investigations unit – and abuts the girls’ primary school. Sarwa Tahseen, 10, who was slightly wounded, described hearing a deafening explosion as she left her classroom.
“The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, with my injured classmates all around me,” she said.
About 50 of the 137 people hurt in the blast were pupils from the girls’ school, several of whom were critically injured, hospital officials said. Strangers passing by plucked up injured children to rush them to the hospital.
“When (police) realized we wanted to help the victims and saw the horrible situation, they let us through,” said Rizgar Ahmed, a government worker. “I took four or five children to the hospital in my car.”
The bombers echoed a tactic used in a double truck bombing last week in Tall Afar – the worst single attack of the war, by Iraqi government reckoning, with 152 dead – by hiding the explosives under bags of flour, police said. That probably helped the truck swiftly pass through checkpoints around the city.
Iraqi officials said the principal target in the Kirkuk blast might have been U.S. troops who were visiting the police compound at the time. However, nearly all the deaths and injuries were outside the compound; the truck exploded when the suicide driver rammed it into blast barriers surrounding the installation.
The number of injuries, and their severity, overwhelmed local hospitals and clinics in Kirkuk. Frantic doctors put out calls for blood donations.