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Suicide Bomber Kills Over 120 Security Officers and Recruits in Hillah, Iraq

In Hillah, Iraq, a suicide bomber killed over 120 security officers and recruits in one of the region's deadliest attacks since the war began two years ago. A discussion with a Washington Post journalist in Baghdad about today's suicide bombing and the capture of Saddam Hussein's half brother.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Jackie Spinner, welcome. In the hours after the attack, it was speculated that the death toll may go much, much higher because of the size of the bomb and the terrible nature of many of the injuries for the wounded people. Did that, in fact, happen?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    Yes, it is. I mean, this was a huge, huge, huge horrific blast. It happened at 9:30 this morning Baghdad time when hundreds of people were gathering in a very busy part of the city. And we still know that tens of — tens of people are still unaccounted for.

    We've got 114 dead at this time, which would make it the deadliest attack in a year, and doctors at the hospitals where we have been have said it is likely to climb even higher in the coming days.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Are most of the dead the police recruits turning up for their physicals, or were a lot of passersby cut down in this attack as well?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    You know, interestingly, many of the people who showed up for the — to the medical clinic today were not only police recruits, but also people applying for jobs with the education ministry, the health ministry. These were not just people coming for jobs with the Iraqi security forces.

    So all of those people were affected, as were the people who just would come to the clinic for general medical care. And there is a vegetable market that is nearby the clinic where there were also casualties. So everybody was affected by this tragedy today.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Is Hilla a place where there's been a lot of violence during the insurgency?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    Yes, it is a trouble spot. The road from Baghdad to Hilla is not a road that we as journalists even travel because it's so dangerous for us and for our Iraqi staff. There was a car bomb, a suicide car bomb on Jan. 5 that killed 15 people, that was targeting a police academy. It's not a nice city.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Let's turn to the arrest of Saddam Hussein's half- brother. What do we know about him and where has he been since the fall of the Hussein government?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    We still don't know. There are conflicting reports. We understand that — our reporting has shown that he was captured by American forces as he crossed over from the Syrian border. There are some reports that he was captured by Syrian forces and turned over to coalition forces.

    We just don't know right now. I mean there's too much conflicting information about where he is. But we do know that having him in custody is a key find for the Americans and the Iraqis because he's got a lot of information he can share.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Was he picked up with a lot of other people being sought from the old regime?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    What we know right now is there are reports that he was picked up with a number of individuals. We don't know exactly how many or exactly what the extent of their role was in the former regime.

    There are only about ten people out of those 55 what they call "high value detainees" or the most sought-after people in the deck of cards that have not been caught yet. So there aren't a lot of these guys still out there. That's what makes it such a significant find.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Today it was announced that the new Iraqi government is ready to begin trials. What do we know about that?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    Well, there are five individuals that have now been officially charged or, in American terms, would have been indicted. And these are five people who were once associated with Saddam Hussein.

    They include one of his half- brothers and other individuals, high-ranking individuals. And these are the people that we expect to go on trial, not probably this month, but maybe by April or May we should see the start of the trial.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And this is a different half-brother from the one who was arrested today?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    Yes, it is. This also includes the two individuals who are involved in a very serious massacre in 1982 in the village of Dujail which is a very predominantly Shiite village. And they were responsible for an assassination attempt against Saddam that made him quite paranoid, and actually changed the course of his political career in terms of how he moved about the country.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Do we know yet about the form of the trials, whether there'll be a jury seated or a panel of judges, about the rules of evidence? Is there much about the structure that's been announced?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    No, there's very, very little that's been said about exactly how this is going to work. And we suspect, and it is only a suspicion, that it is going to be somewhat like other international tribunals, Milosevic, other so-called war criminals who have been tried internationally.

    But beyond that, the U.S. individuals have been very, very closemouthed about exactly how this is going to work. We suspect that this is mostly for security reasons.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Jackie Spinner of the Washington Post, thanks for being with us.

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    Thank you for having me.

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