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VII. Attacks on Civilians Applying for the Iraqi Security Forces

Insurgent groups have frequently targeted groups of men waiting to sign up for the Iraqi police or armed forces, which they consider “collaborating with the infidel crusaders.”193 Typically, a large car bomb explodes outside a police station or other building where the registration process is taking place.

Iraqi soldiers and policemen engaged in military operations are legitimate targets under international humanitarian law. These attacks, however, are unlawful because the targets were not combatants. The applicants were not yet members of the security forces—they were still civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities. The intention to join a security force does not revoke the immunity a civilian enjoys.

Even if such attacks were targeting a police station used for military purposes or a military recruiting center, the nature of the attacks likely makes them unlawful as indiscriminate or as causing disproportionate civilian harm. In any case, the bombings cases documented in this chapter suggest that the intended target was the applicants outside the building—all of them still civilians—rather than the building, whether or not a military target, they were waiting to enter. Moreover, many of the attackers employed perfidious means, feigning civilian status to get close to their target, which is likewise unlawful under international law.

On February 10, 2004, for example, a suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside a police station in al-Iskandariyya, killing some fifty applicants and other civilians and no police. The bomb ripped the front off the police station, blasted a large crater in the concrete and threw body parts across the street.

According to witnesses, the bomb detonated around 8:30 a.m. in an area that held the police station, the local court and the mayor’s office. The compound was crowded with people applying for jobs at the police, some of whom were killed. The local police said a red pick-up truck with 500 pounds of explosives detonated as it drove by the station.

“We found the bodies burnt and broken into pieces. We found pieces of flesh on the roof,” a witness told the press. “We found body parts that we couldn’t tell who they belonged to. There were pieces of women.”194

According to one press report, no Iraqi police died.195 According to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, between forty and fifty people died and up to 100 people were injured, including four members of the police.196

The next day, February 11, a suicide bomber in a car detonated his explosives amidst a large group of Iraqis waiting outside an army recruitment center in southeastern Baghdad, killing between thirty-six and forty-seven applicants.197 “I saw a white Oldsmobile slowly approaching. It ran over some people and exploded,” one injured Iraqi army officer said from his hospital bed. “I was blown up in the air and saw fire and body parts all around me.”198

On July 28, 2004, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a police station in Ba`quba and killed sixty-eight people. The target was the hundreds of men waiting to sign up for the police outside the station, but the bomb had a devastating impact on nearby shops, apartments and a minibus. “I saw all those volunteers standing in line and I had a feeling something was about to happen, so I locked my shop and started to walk away,” a grocery store owner next to the station told the press. “That’s when the explosion happened. I saw smoke, people running everywhere, shrapnel falling and pieces of flesh. I don’t know whom to blame, because no Muslim and no Iraqi could do such a thing.”199

According to one press report, “the blast strewed corpses, tangled wreckage and puddles of blood over a busy, sun-baked street of shops and government offices.”200 One witness said he saw burnt-up bodies inside the bus. “There were several bodies inside the shops and on the rooftops,” he said.201

On February 28, 2005, at about 8:30 am in the city of al-Hilla, sixty miles south of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded and killed at least 125 people and wounded about 130. The apparent target was a group of several hundred people who were lined up outside a health center to take medical exams for acceptance into the police and armed forces. Among the dead were people in the market across the street from the health center. In addition to directly targeting civilians, the attack was unlawfully directed at a health center, which is a protected object.202 “I was standing inside the door when I saw a car coming fast down the road opposite the clinic,” a security guard at the health clinic said. “All of a sudden the glass and shrapnel started coming down all around my head. When I got outside I couldn’t believe it: there were dead bodies everywhere, and blood on the walls and the street.”203

The day after the attack, the al-Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq claimed responsibility, according to a statement posted on the Internet. “A lion from our martyrdom brigade plunged into a gathering of apostates in front of a police and National Guard registration center, blowing up his loaded car and killing 125 apostates,” the statement said. “The blood of the apostates was helping the Americans. They had sold their religion and their honor.” Human Rights Watch could not verify the claim, but it appeared on a website most often used by Iraqi insurgents and was in the name of the person who usually disseminates statements by al-Qaeda in Iraq.204

In the most recent large-scale attack, on May 4, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives amidst a group of Kurdish men waiting to sign up for the police in Arbil, killing forty-six people and wounding an estimated 150.205 Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for the attack.206 (See “Attacks on Kurds” in chapter IV of this report, “Attacks on Ethnic and Religious Groups”.)

[193] On April 9, 2005, men passed out leaflets from al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia at mosques in Mosul that threatened Sunnis who joined the Iraqi armed forces. “Sunnis must ban their sons from collaborating with the infidel crusaders,” the leaflet reportedly said. “Allowing Sunnis to join the tyrannical army would make jihad lose its meaning.” (Dexter Filkins, “Demonstrators in Iraq Demand That U.S. Leave,” New York Times, April 10, 2005.)

[194] Justin Huggler, “Terrorists Spark Fear of Civil War in Iraq as 50 Die in Car Bomb,” Independent, February 11, 2004.

[195] Hannah Allam, “Truck Bomb Kills at Least 50 Outside Police Station South of Baghdad, Iraq,” Knight Ridder, February 11, 2004.

[196] Mariam Fam, “Truck Bomb Outside Police Station South of Baghdad Kills Dozens; Crowd Blames Americans,” Associated Press, February 10, 2004.

[197] “36 Killed in Baghdad Suicide Car Bombing,” Agence France-Presse, February 11, 2004, and Mariam Fam, “Vehicle Bomb at Iraqi Army Recruiting Station Kills Dozens of Iraqis in Second Deadly Attack in Two Days,” Associated Press, February 11, 2004.

[198] Mariam Fam, “Vehicle Bomb at Iraqi Army Recruiting Station Kills Dozens of Iraqis in Second Deadly Attack in Two Days,” Associated Press, February 11, 2004.

[199] Pamela Constable and Bassam Sebti, “Suicide Bomber Kills 68 In Iraq; Attack in Baqubah Aimed at Line of Police Applicants,” Washington Post, July 29, 2004.

[200] Megan K. Stack, “Vehicle Bombing Kills 68 in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2004.

[201] “Iraqi Police Recruits Caught in Morning Carnage,” Agence France-Presse, July 28, 2004.

[202] See, e.g. Protocol I, art. 52(3) on the general protection of civilian objects: “In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used.”

[203] Warzer Jaff and Robert F. Worth, “Blast Kills 122 at Iraqi Clinic in Attack on Security Recruits, New York Times, March 2, 1005. See also Haider Abbas and Mussab al-Khairalla, ”Suicide Car Bomb Kills 110 in Iraq,” Reuters, February 28, 2005.

[204] “Web Site: Al Qaeda in Iraq Claims Hilla Bombing,” Reuters, March 1, 2005.

[205] “Suicide Bomber Killers 45 in Northern Iraq City,” Agence France-Presse, May 4, 2005, and Rory Carroll and Michael Howard, “They Were Lining Up To Join Iraq’s Police—But in the Queue Was a Suicide Bomber,” The Guardian, May 5, 2005.

[206] “Iraq’s Ansar al-Sunna Claims Arbil Bombing—Web,” Reuters, May 4, 2005.

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