By Rebecca Santana
Attacks aimed at Iraqi police, including two in which assailants slammed explosives-packed cars into police stations, killed 25 people Wednesday and maimed dozens in the worst violence in the capital since August.
Less than three months before American troops are to leave Iraq, the blasts were a brutal example of the challenges Iraqi security forces will face as they assume sole responsibility for containing terror groups such as al-Qaida.
The blasts were aimed at the police, generally considered to be the weakest section of the country's security forces. Just days ago, authorities said the Iraqi army was delaying a scheduled pullout from the cities over concerns about whether the police were ready to provide security.
In the southern Karradah neighborhood, a suicide car bomb attack on a police station killed 13 people and wounded 25, Baghdad police officials said. Smoke rose from the blast site as ambulances rushed to the scene, their sirens wailing. Iraqi army helicopters circled overhead.
"The scene was horrific," said Salim Ghadban, who was having breakfast when he heard a loud explosion.
"We saw terrified people, some injured, running in our direction, and we rushed to the attacked police station and saw burned bodies and charred cars," he said. "We helped cover the burned bodies until the ambulances arrived."
At a nearby hospital where the victims were taken, Hardan Salah sat with a friend, two shrapnel wounds to his back and X-rays of his injuries laying on the bed nearby. He said he was waiting across the street from the police station for his friend when the suicide bomber struck.
"I was making some phone calls when I heard the explosion, which threw me to the ground. The sound and the wind of the explosion were coming from the back. I immediately fell down," he said.
In the mainly Shiite neighborhood of Hurriyah, another suicide car bomber targeted a police station and killed nine people, two Baghdad police officials said. Twenty-seven people were wounded in that blast.
The attack in Hurriyah was especially remarkable because the neighborhood, a stronghold of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is almost entirely surrounded by blast walls. Access is tightly restricted through four entrances manned by the Iraqi army.
Two roadside bombs and a bomb in a parked car also killed two policemen and a civilian in western Baghdad.
The damage could have been even worse and more widespread. Iraqi police defused two more car bombs, and a bomb was discovered on the road leading to the police academy in eastern Baghdad, a Baghdad police official said.
A hospital official confirmed the causalities. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday's violence. But the military spokesman for Baghdad, Qassim al-Moussawi, blamed al-Qaida and said the attacks were an attempt to show people that the militants are still active.
"Every three months or so, al-Qaida mobilizes all its resources to launch such attacks in one day to say that al-Qaida is still able to attack and threaten security posts," he said.
Wednesday's carnage came two days after a series of explosions targeting security officials killed 10 people in Baghdad in a similar multi-pronged attack.
The police are an especially vulnerable target among Iraq's security forces because they usually do not have the heavy weapons or equipment that the Iraqi army has. The military has received the bulk of the US training assistance since the war began.
Under a 2008 security pact, the remaining 41,500 US troops must leave Iraq by the end of this year, although a large American diplomatic presence will remain.
US and Iraqi officials have been discussing whether to have a long-term but small US military presence in the country after December to train Iraqi security forces. But Iraqi politicians have been unable to agree on whether to give the troops the legal protections that the American government requires, and time is rapidly running out for any agreement to take effect.
"We urge the security forces to be on high alert ahead of the US withdrawal," al-Moussawi said. "Security stability in Iraq seems to be far away, because we are still facing challenges."