BAGHDAD, Iraq – The deadly attacks on civilians that have wracked this country took on a new and grisly variation Wednesday: A powerful explosion ripped through a crowded Baghdad bus station. As police responded, a second explosion went off. Then, a third bomb devastated the nearby hospital where the wounded had been rushed for treatment.

The triple-bombing toll reported by the Ministry of Interior and hospital officials: 40 killed and 88 injured, including civilians, medical workers and police, making it the deadliest attack in weeks in the violence-ridden country.

Witnesses reported that the devastation started about 7:20 a.m. when a car parked in the Nahda bus station in the center of the city exploded in a blast so powerful that it could be heard about five miles away.

At the time, the bus station, the biggest in the capital, was crowded with hundreds of people getting off or waiting to board buses mainly to and from provinces in the predominantly Shiite southern part of the country.

A few minutes later, a second bomb detonated, hitting police who had rushed to the scene.

The explosions tore apart and charred buses, vans and cars and flung glass and body parts up to 100 yards away. Rescuers started taking the wounded to the Kindi hospital less than a mile from the bus station.

At about 8 a.m., a Nissan car parked near the hospital entrance exploded. Most of those killed or injured were civilians, although two police were also killed and 10 wounded.

Grief-stricken relatives rushed to the bus station seeking news about passengers or bus workers they feared were caught in the blast. They were met by police who brandished their guns to force them back from the devastated scene.

One man wept as he sat by the gate of the bus station next to part of a human jaw.

“It might be part of my brother,” he cried. “My God, why are you not merciful to us? Show your mercy.”

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“Did you see Ali?” shouted another person who came to the bus station. “If he is dead, just tell me. I want to find his body.”

At the Kindi hospital, a man brought in his badly burned wife. The couple had been at the bus station trying to go to Basra.

“She’s dead. My wife is dead,” the man said.

A doctor leaned over her with a stethoscope. “No, she has a pulse,” he said.

“Move her fast,” he told a nurse, as the husband followed with tears streaming down his face.

“My brother Hassan,” shouted one woman who was struggling in the arms of two other women as she tried to run into the hospital. “How can we survive without you?”

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Jawad Kadhum, 41, had come from Basra to Baghdad seeking an appointment to a government job. He got the job and was waiting at the bus station to go home when the blasts hit. He was knocked unconscious, with a severely injured leg.

“I came here to find a job, and I thank God I found it. But instead of celebrating, look at me,” he said as he lay on a gurney in the hospital.

So many wounded people were brought to the hospital that medical workers told other patients to go home, while all the doctors and nurses were told to report to the emergency room.

Many relatives came to take sick or injured patients home because they were afraid that the hospital would be hit by another bomb.

The hospital ran out of space to hold bodies. At least 19 burned bodies were lined up outside next to the hospital.

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“This is a disaster,” said Dr. Abdul Razaq Achmed, head of radiology at the Kindi hospital. Achmed said the road in front of the hospital where the Nissan car bomb was parked was supposed to be kept secure.

“What happened is a mistake that the management of the hospital and the police should take responsibility for,” he said.

Witnesses said looters tried to steal from cars at the hospital and the bus station after the bombings. They reported that some thieves tried taking jewelry off the dead.

Police at the scenes said the blasts weren’t suicide bombs. No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attacks.

Interior Minister Baqir Jabr al-Zubaidi, speaking on Iraqi television, said four suspects had been arrested near the bus station.

Iraq national security adviser Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie blamed terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al-Qaida in Iraq.

“This is a very clear indication that they are trying to incite sectarian war in this country,” he said. He noted that the bus station primarily serves passengers to the southern Shiite regions of the country. “They are really testing the patience of the Shiite.”

The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group, issued a release denouncing the bombing. The group also said that the incident was preceded by “26 Iraqi workers injured by the fire of an American helicopter in al-Alawi bus station yesterday.”

A U.S. military press release said terrorists attacked a U.S. patrol in central Baghdad early Tuesday morning and that helicopters fired back, resulting in “an undetermined number of civilian casualties.” The press release said the incident was under investigation and that the U.S.-led coalition “regrets any loss of life or injuries sustained by the civilians in the area.”

The military also reported Wednesday that a U.S. soldier died in a bombing in southwest Baghdad early Tuesday morning, and that a soldier was killed by gunfire in central Mosul on Monday.

A bomb targeting an American patrol Wednesday also killed three civilians in Baghdad, according to Iraqi officials.



(Special correspondent Huda Ahmed contributed to this report.)



(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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