Today’s suicide bombing in Baghdad was particularly cunning and brutal. The bomber drove up to a crowd of construction workers that gathers daily at a square in the mostly Shi'ite district of Kadhimiya in hopes of finding temporary work.
First the bomber called to the men to gather around his minibus, promising to take a large number of them to a job site. Then, he exploded the vehicle laden with explosives, killing more than 100 people including himself.
One of the workers who was waiting at the square described the scene to Reuters: "We gathered and suddenly a car blew up and turned the area into fire and dust and darkness. People ran away [from the blast], there was chaos everywhere."
Hazim al-Jumaili of Baghdad's Al-Karkh medical department told Reuters that three hospitals have gone onto emergency footing to deal with the scores of injured. "Our hospitals in the Al-Karkh medical department -- Muhammad Bakir al-Hakim, Al-Karama, Al-Karkh, and Al-Kadhimiyah pediatric hospital -- all turned into emergency hospitals to put the situation under control. We have till now 90 dead and 182 wounded," al-Jumaili said.
The bombing sent a grim message that Iraq’s insurgents remain determined to fight even as President Talabani was in Washington to talk about security progress in the country.
Talabani met for an hour with U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday. Appearing with Bush at a joint press conference afterward, the Iraqi leader described the security situation.
"There is progress in security in our country," he said. "The number of car bombs reduced. The places which were under the cruel control of the terrorists are now liberated and they are now registering their names for the new election."
In the run-up to the Washington visit, Talabani had suggested that the security situation could permit some U.S. forces to begin withdrawing at the end of this year. He was quoted in an interview on the website of "The Washington Post" as saying, "In my opinion, at least from 40,000 to 50,000 American troops can be [withdrawn] by the end of this year."
But in remarks to the press yesterday, he said he rejected any calls for a reduction of U.S. troops in the near future. He said he hopes Iraqi troops will be able to start replacing U.S. forces by the end of 2006. "American and international presence in Iraq is vital for democracy in Iraq and in the Middle East and also for preventing foreign interference in the internal affairs of Iraq," he said. "We will set no timetable for withdrawal, Mr. President [Bush]. A timetable will help the terrorists, will encourage them that they could defeat the superpower of the world and the Iraqi people."
Appearing with Talabani, Bush said the U.S. will not waver in Iraq. "I pledge that we will not waver, and I appreciate your same pledge," Bush said. "Iraq will take its place among the world's democracies. The enemies of freedom will be defeated.”
There are now about 140,000 American troops in Iraq. The number is not likely to be reduced before the nationwide referendum on the country's new constitution, which is scheduled for 15 October.For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".