BAGHDAD (AP) – Twin car bombs tore through a leading Baghdad university as students left classes yesterday in the deadliest attack in Iraq in nearly two months, and the United Nations reported 34,452 civilians were slain last year, nearly three times more than the government reported.
A total of 142 Iraqis were killed or found dead yesterday, in what appeared to be a renewed campaign of Sunni insurgent violence against Shiite targets. The sharp uptick in deadly attacks coincided with the recent release of U.N. figures that showed an average of 94 civilians died each day in the sectarian bloodshed during the past year.
The blasts wrecked two small buses as students at Al-Mustansiriya University were lining up for the ride home at about 3:45 p.m., according to Taqi al-Moussawi, a university dean. At least 65 students died.
The attackers stationed a man wearing a suicide belt in the expected path of fleeing students to take even more lives, but he was spotted and shot by security men before he could blow himself up, the dean said.
“The only guilt of our martyred students is that they pursued education. They belong to all religions, sects and ethnic groups,” said an angry al-Moussawi, himself a Shiite. “The terrorists want to stop education. . Those students had nothing to do with politics.”
After the explosions, a rescue worker and three men in civilian clothes scrambled through the debris to carry a charred victim away in a sheet. Firefighters in yellow helmets examined the charred wreckage of an bashed-in, overturned minivan.
The university’s well-shaded campus occupies several square blocks in north central Baghdad, a mostly Shiite area. The school ranks second among institutions of higher education in Iraq. Founded in 1963, it was named after one of the oldest Islamic schools, established in the 13th century during the Abbasid dynasty that ruled the Muslim world. Thousands attend the university, known especially for its colleges of science, literature and education.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed the attack on “terrorists and Saddamists” seeking revenge for Monday’s hanging of two of Saddam Hussein’s top aides, convicted with him for the slaying of 148 Shiite men and boys after a 1982 assassination attempt in the northern town of Dujail.
The violence yesterday against Shiites may signal a campaign by Sunni insurgents to shed as much blood as possible before the deployment of 21,500 more American troops. Most of the additional U.S. troops will be used to back up the Iraqi army in a security sweep to rid the capital of Sunni and Shiite gunmen.