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Powerful Blast Kills Dozens in Iraq - 2004-06-17

In Iraq, at least 40 people were killed and more than 100 others injured when a vehicle packed with ammunition exploded outside a Baghdad recruiting station where Iraqis were waiting to sign up to join the country's new military. The devastating car bomb attack was another indication that insurgents are stepping up efforts to disrupt the upcoming handover of power on July 1. It was one of the deadliest car bomb explosions in the Iraqi capital in months and occurred at the same recruitment center where another bombing in February killed nearly 50 people.

VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Baghdad describes what happened.

Ryu: "Witnesses say a white sports utility vehicle raced toward the front gate of the center, where a crowd of about 100 people stood in line, waiting to enter the building. As it neared the gate, the vehicle exploded, throwing bodies, body parts and metal along a nearby four lane road."

Such attacks are seen as a campaign by insurgents to target Iraqis willing to cooperate with the new interim government, which was installed to lead the country through elections early next year.

Amid stepped-up efforts by insurgents to disrupt the political transition, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al Naqib is now vowing to take all measures necessary, including putting the country under martial law, if that's what it takes to stop the unrest.

"If we need to do it, yes, we will do it," he said. "We won't hesitate. This is the security of our country. This is the security and the life of our people."

Whether Iraq will be capable of maintaining its own security once power is handed over is far from certain. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, on an unannounced visit to the country, says Iraq's security forces will continue to need substantial help from foreign troops for some time. "We know they aren't yet ready to assume that full job and until they are, you can count on us," he said.

A poll of Iraqis conducted last month on behalf of the U.S. led coalition suggests most of those asked have lost confidence in the military occupation and would feel safer if all foreign forces left the country.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters he also believes there is still too much violence to consider sending a permanent staff back into Iraq, even though the world body is supposed to be playing a leading role in the political transition there. "I would want to urge that everything be done to secure the environment not just for the U.N. to return, but for the ordinary Iraqi, for reconstruction and for the stability of Iraq," he explained.

And, as multiple investigations continue into the abuses of Iraqis held prisoner by American soldiers, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged ordering the detention of a suspected Iraqi terrorist who was held for seven months without notification of the Red Cross. An investigation is under way, but he did not rule out the possibility that the case might have been a violation of international law.