A suicide bomber has killed at least 61 people in an attack at an army recruitment center in Baghdad. More than 125 other people are said to have been injured in the blast. The attack comes two weeks before a U.S. deadline to remove its combat troops from Iraq.
The bomber struck as hundreds of recruits had gathered waiting to submit their applications. It was not clear how the attacker passed numerous checkpoints to reach the center, at the former Defense Ministry in the heart of the capital.
Officials accused al-Qaida in Iraq of planning the blast, the deadliest in months. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility. Insurgents had vowed to step up attacks during Ramadan, the Islamic month of spiritual devotion that began last week.
The number of people gathered at the center appeared larger than normal on what was said to be the last day of recruitment for the time being. With jobs scarce, many had been lining up for hours to secure a coveted slot.
Wayne White, a scholar with the Middle East Institute, discusses the violence in Iraq:
Mohammed Jasim witnessed the attack. Speaking of those killed, Jasim asked, what crime did they commit. He blamed the government, saying it is unable to protect people.
Politicians are still deadlocked over how to form a new government, more than five months after inconclusive elections. This week saw a further setback, with the head of the leading coalition, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, suspending talks with his closest rival, current Prime Minister Nouri al Malaki.
The stalemate further heightens concerns about the state's ability to establish a security force capable of taking over from the United States.
American forces have already handed over control of the last combat team to Iraq. A formal end to combat operations and a draw down to 50,000 troops is slated for the end of the month. That force will help with training and what are called counter-terrorist missions. But an end to the U.S. military presence is still planned for the end of next year.
The blast at the recruitment center appears calculated to deter Iraqis from filling that void.