BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed 19 police officers and cadets Sunday in an attack on a crowd outside a Baghdad police academy, police and hospital sources said.
The car exploded as it careered into a crowd of cadets whom police had just escorted out of the compound and were standing in the street outside, police working at the academy said.
Police and hospital sources said 14 cadets and five police were killed, and 26 people were wounded. All except two of the wounded were police or cadets.
“I can see body parts scattered on the ground and boots and berets covered with blood. Many cars were set ablaze,” said a policeman working at the academy on Palestine Street in northeastern Baghdad.
The attack is the deadliest since January 27, when a suicide bomber set off an explosive-laden vehicle near a Shi‘ite funeral procession in Baghdad, killing at least 31 and wounding 60.
It breaks a short period of relative calm that accompanied an easing in a political crisis pitting Shi‘ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against senior members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya political bloc.
Tensions rose Thursday, however, when a panel of judges detailed 150 attacks they said were carried out by death squads under the command of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. Maliki sought Hashemi’s arrest in December, sparking the crisis.
Hashemi, who has taken refuge in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, has denied accusations made against him, dismissing them as a plot to destroy Maliki’s opponents.
Iraqiya lawmakers and ministers responded to Maliki’s move against Hashemi, as well as to an attempt to have a Sunni deputy prime minister dismissed, by staging a walk-out.
Their protest coincided with a string of attacks on Shi‘ite targets in December and January which prompted fears of a return to the kind of sectarian bloodshed that peaked five years ago, in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Iraqiya lawmakers returned to parliament at the end of last month, and Iraq has seen a spell of relative calm since then.
Iraq is less violent than at the height of the sectarian war in 2006-2007 but is still plagued by a lethal Sunni insurgency, including al Qaeda-linked fighters, and Shi‘ite militias. Bombings and killings still occur daily.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Suadad al-Salhy; writing by Francois Murphy, editing by Rosalind Russell