A huge explosion detonated by a suicide attacker in a bomb-laden vehicle tore through central Baqouba on Wednesday, killing at least 68 people and injuring scores more.
The explosion hit outside the al-Najda police station, an Iraqi police recruiting center in the turbulent city of Baqouba.
Capt. Marshall Jackson, of the Army's 3rd Brigade in Baqouba, says the targeted area is a very busy corner in the city, some 35 miles northeast of the Iraqi capitol.
"Basically there's a police station in the area, government buildings in the area ... little shops, fruit stands, basically where all the action takes place," said Jackson. "Right now it doesn't look great. It's all civilians casualties at this stage."
The blast destroyed nearby shops and turned cars into mangled, burned out wrecks. Charred and dismembered bodies lay in a street amid pools of blood, building debris and shattered glass.
The body of one victim lay underneath a slab of concrete, while emergency crews carried the bodies of injured and slain victims into waiting ambulances.
Baqouba has been the scene of regular anti-coalition attacks since U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March, 2003, but fighters have also targeted Iraqi police forces, who are regarded as easier targets than the better equipped American troops.
On July 19, a fuel tanker truck plowed toward a police station in southwest Baghdad, detonating and killing at least nine people and wounding more than 60 people.
Iraqi officials expect attacks to continue and intensify as the country tries to edge toward democracy; they anticipate that the national conference, expected before the end of this month, to be a major terror target.
In other recent developments: A U.S. soldier was killed and three others injured while on patrol in northern Iraq. The 1st Infantry Division soldiers were traveling in an armored Humvee when the bomb detonated late Tuesday in Balad-Ruz, about 40 miles northwest of Baghdad. The death of the soldier, whose identity hasn't been released yet, raises the toll of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq to 905 since the war began. The security situation in Iraq is at the top of the agenda Wednesday as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell meets Wednesday in Cairo with Egyptian President Mubarak, and then flies on for similar discussions in Saudi Arabia. Powell says a successful effort to bring stability and democracy to Iraq would go a long way toward easing the wave of Arab opposition to U.S. policies in various parts of the world. One recent poll showed that opposition to U.S. policies in Egypt was nearly 100 percent. In Kirkuk Wednesday, gunmen in a car shot and killed policeman Udai Saddam as he waited for a taxi to get to work. The attackers fled the scene. Elsewhere in Kirkuk Wednesday, two men trying to plant a bomb on an oil pipeline near Kirkuk were killed when the explosive device detonated prematurely. The pipeline was not damaged. Seven Iraqi soldiers fighting alongside multinational troops and some 35 insurgents were killed in fierce fighting Wednesday morning near the south-central city of Suwariyah. Another 10 soldiers from the Iraqi security forces were wounded in the joint operation with U.S. Army special forces and Ukrainian troops. No multinational or U.S. forces suffered any casualties.The chief executive of a Jordanian firm says he's pulling out of Iraq because of his concern for the lives of his two employees, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe in Baghdad. Two of his drivers were kidnapped Monday by a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Corps. That group had threatened to kill them within seventy-two hours unless the company ceased working with U.S. forces here.A senior Egyptian diplomat returned to work Tuesday a day after being released by militants. The release of Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb, the third ranking diplomat at the Egyptian mission in Baghdad, came as two different militant groups threatened to kill four new foreign hostages in an increasingly audacious wave of kidnappings in Iraq. A third group threatened attacks to cut off the highway between Jordan and Baghdad, a key supply route for the U.S. military.
Amid the violence, Iraq's early steps toward democratic reform have been taking place.
Officials announced Tuesday that the national conference for 1,000 delegates to choose an Iraqi Interim Assembly will begin on Saturday.
Coalition troops and interior ministry forces will assist authorities in protecting the three-day event, which is viewed as a vital step toward democracy in a nation struggling to deal with a persistent campaign of kidnappings and other violence.
Conference chairman Fuad Masoum says the conference, stipulated under a law enacted by the former U.S. occupation authority, was to have been concluded by the end of July, but it had to be delayed because preparations are behind schedule.
The United Nations had wanted a longer delay, which organizers vetoed.
"Creating the conditions for a successful outcome to the conference is more important than holding it on time," U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York.
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