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Witness sensed something was wrong before bomb attack

U.S. troops check an ambulance before it enters the scene of a bomb blast Wednesday morning.
U.S. troops check an ambulance before it enters the scene of a bomb blast Wednesday morning.

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Guerrilla Activities

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) -- Qays al-Jamouri realized something was terribly wrong as he looked at a long line of enthusiastic men outside a new U.S.-backed Iraqi army recruitment center. But by then it was too late.

"There were many people waiting to start training. We were all talking. Then I noticed there was only one armed guard in a tower protecting us. I thought maybe we should go inside or move," he said.

"I had a strange feeling. Two minutes later someone drove up in a white car and it exploded. I was knocked to the ground. I saw people's heads on the street."

Iraqis, especially those seen cooperating with Americans, can't afford to ignore their gut feelings in a country where suicide bombers can strike anywhere at any minute.

The suicide bomber who sent Jamouri to a hospital bed, traumatized and with broken legs, killed at least 45 people on Wednesday, a day after another claimed at least 50 lives outside a police station.

U.S. troops cordoned off the area where the car bomb exploded known as Muthana Airport, a small air facility abandoned for decades but recently used by the new Iraqi army.

As he waited in line, Jamouri befriended two other recruits who had finished their fitness and medical tests and were primed to start training for the new army, heralded by the Americans as one of the forces that will impose security in Iraq.

Now all three of them lay in hospital beds in the same grimy room beside blood-stained stretchers, as doctors who had sent dozens of people to the morgue throughout the morning reviewed their injury sheets.

Tearful and angry, Jamouri complained how the U.S.-led occupation authorities boast about the high number of Iraqis signing up for the new army and police but fail to protect them from guerrilla attacks.

"I hate the Americans. I hate them," said Jamouri, 28. "They did nothing to protect us. They don't protect Muslims."

Like many Iraqis, Jamouri thought the U.S.-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein in April would ease many of the hardships suffered under his iron-fisted rule.

Facing high unemployment in postwar Iraq, Jamouri decided to sign up for the new Iraqi army, and he couldn't wait to start work on Wednesday.

"We were many brothers and sisters. We were poor. I was in bad shape. I thought I could get work in the new army and protect and defend my country's honor," he said. "How can I protect my country when I can't even get protection?"

As he spoke, another blast victim lying nearby with anti-burn cream all over his face repeated, "Doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor."

It is a cry that has become all too familiar for medics who are overwhelmed by shrapnel and burn wounds in the new Iraq.

U.S. military officials say they have evidence that pro-Saddam guerrilla groups may have teamed up with al Qaeda operatives to carry out deadly attacks like the latest one.

But the victims are too shaken to ponder who detonates the massive car bombs at will.

"I just don't know. We don't know. God only knows," said Jamouri. He said he is determined to join the new Iraqi army when he recovers, despite the risk.

"I just want to protect my country," he said, weeping, as another patient held his hand.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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