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34 Die in Iraq as Terrorists Bomb Red Cross, Iraq Police

By Dexter Filkins

The New York Times -- BAGHDAD, Iraq

The morning that opened with the quiet air of a religious holiday was broken suddenly by the sound of a bomb.

And then another bomb, and another, and another still.

Of all the chaos and cacophony that gripped the scenes of the suicide attacks here on Monday, at the beginning of Ramadan, the eeriest sounds of all were the explosions in the distance.

One after another the suicide bombers struck, and only minutes apart.

First, there were two nearly simultaneous blasts at Iraqi police stations in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Dora and Baya. Only five minutes later, a man drove an ambulance packed with explosives to the headquarters of the Red Cross and set them off.

Then, only minutes after that, there were two more, each of the explosions audible from the center of town.

“There’s been two more bombs,” an Iraqi police officer quietly said to his colleagues, and they knew from the sounds that he was right.

Car bombs had come before to Baghdad, big bombs that killed dozens, but never so many, and never like this.

The attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross unleashed the greatest carnage. Witnesses said a man in an ambulance had raced toward the building, his vehicle laden with explosives. The Red Cross, dedicated to helping Iraqi families make contact with Iraqi prisoners of war, was protected by little more than a line of barrels filled with sand.

Yet even as the ambulance sped forward, witnesses said another car, its driver sensing that something was amiss, had tried to cut the ambulance off. They raced until the last moment, and then the bomb went off.

“I thought it was the end,” said Samir Hassan, 39, who had just pulled into the parking lot of an Oil Ministry branch office when the bomb exploded. “There was a huge explosion. My car was on fire.”

Hassan escaped unharmed. The bomber himself seemed to have vaporized; all that remained was a crater where his car had exploded and a scattering of metal shards. Behind the crater sat two cars, each blackened and burned. Inside each sat a charred corpse, each frozen at the moment of death.

U.S. investigators working the scene said they had counted 15 bodies, most belonging to people who lived in houses neighboring the Red Cross headquarters.

Two of the dead lay on the side of road, tangled in a pile of bricks and metal, their clothes burned from their bodies. Hunks of human flesh lay in piles here and there, the blood draining pink into the gutter. Part of a body sat stuck to a second-story wall of a building across the street.

In the horror of the moment, emotions tumbled forth. Hamid Khalaf, a 39-year-old security guard, said he suspected the bombs were set off by the supporters of Saddam Hussein, no friends of his. But it was another group he thought to blame.

“The Americans are the reason,” Khalaf said, standing in the rubble. “The Americans thought they could liberate us, but we will not accept them. We are an Islamic people.”