BAGHDAD, Iraq — Guerrillas bombed a Baghdad shopping street full of police recruits and fired on a police van north of the capital Tuesday in attacks that killed at least 59 people and struck at the heart of the U.S. strategy for fighting Iraq’s escalating insurgency.
In Kirkuk, saboteurs wrecked a recently repaired pipeline junction Tuesday, and the fire set off a cascade of power blackouts that underlined the frustrations faced by U.S. engineers trying to upgrade northern Iraq’s creaky oil facilities in the face of relentless bombings.
The Baghdad car bombing and shooting — the latest in violence that has killed nearly 150 people in three days — were part of an increasingly brazen and coordinated campaign to bring the battle to the capital, sowing chaos in the center of authority for Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his American allies.
The Tawhid and Jihad group, headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, posted a Web statement claiming responsibility for Tuesday’s car bombing. The al-Qaida-linked group launched a surprise assault in Baghdad on Sunday, killing dozens, and boasted it had the upper hand in the fight against the Americans.
On Tuesday evening, another explosion rocked Baghdad near the Green Zone, where Iraq’s interim government and the U.S. Embassy are located. There was no immediate word on the cause.
The morning car bombing was the deadliest single attack in Baghdad in six months, wrecking buildings and cars on central Haifa Street, leaving charred bodies and hurling body parts, shoes and debris into nearby trees and homes.
The blast ripped through stores where Iraqis were shopping and cafes where men applying for the police force were sipping tea and escaping the summer heat as they waited their turn to sign up at the nearby western Baghdad police headquarters.
The 47 dead included would-be police recruits and civilians. At least 114 people were wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Saad Al-Amili said.
In Baqouba, northeast of the capital, gunmen in two cars opened fire Tuesday on a van carrying policemen, killing 11 officers and a civilian, said Qaisar Hamid of Baqouba General Hospital.
Also Tuesday, clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents killed at least eight civilians and wounded 18 in Ramadi, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city west of the capital where anti-American sentiments are high.
The military said Tuesday that three American soldiers were killed and eight were wounded in separate attacks in Iraq in the past 24 hours.
Despite the violence, U.S. and Iraqi forces claimed two successes in recent days. U.S. troops on Tuesday ended their siege of the northwest city of Tal Afar, saying they had cleared it of militants after 12 days of fighting that killed dozens of people.
And on Thursday, U.S. troops entered Samarra, north of Baghdad, for the first time since May 30 after negotiating a deal with local leaders. The city had been a stronghold of Sunni insurgents.
U.S. commanders insisted attacks like Tuesday’s won’t deter Iraqis from joining the police and Iraqi national guard to help end the violence.
Some directed their anger at the militants.
“Such acts cannot be considered part of the resistance (against American forces). This is not a jihad, they are not mujahedeen,” said Amir Abdel Hassan, a teacher. “Iraq is not a country, it’s a big graveyard,” he said.
Near Kirkuk, a 3 a.m. attack blew up a junction where multiple oil pipelines cross the Tigris River at the northern city of Beiji. The burning oil melted power cables, causing a short that knocked power plants offline and cut off electricity across Iraq until late afternoon, officials said.
The breach also shut down the pipeline ferrying crude oil from Kirkuk’s huge oilfield to an export terminal in Ceyhan, Turkey. With crude oil selling above $40 a barrel, the frequent sabotage has cost Iraq more than $2 billion, Allawi has said.
“If you build it they will come — and try to blow it up,” said Lt. Col. Lee Morrison, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer who heads a Kirkuk-based oil security team. “It’s definitely one step forward, one step back. You fix it and it blows up.”
Instead of being sold on the international market, oil burned on the desert and poured, still aflame, into the Tigris. Aerial photos showed flaming slicks of oil floating downstream while black smoke billowed into mammoth columns visible 25 miles away.
Officials at the state-run North Oil Co. said the flames were extinguished late Tuesday.
Especially disheartening for Morrison, the sabotage came just two days after Northern Oil Co. engineers completed a two-month replacement of critical valves destroyed by a previous bombing.
“They already know it’s a critical point because they’ve blown it up before,” Morrison said in frustration, sitting in an office with walls covered by pipeline maps, including one marked with several yellow circles denoting previous pipeline blasts. Morrison, 44, of St. Petersburg, Fla., said U.S. soldiers dropped off spools of concertina wire to block access to the repaired valves two days ago, but Iraqi authorities had not yet erected them.
Iraqi officials are struggling to protect the country’s vast oil infrastructure in both the north and south against attacks by insurgents who are seeking to destabilize Allawi’s interim government.