BAGHDAD - His clothes covered with blood, Karar Abbas broke down after pulling seven bodies from the wreckage of a massive truck bomb Sunday in downtown Baghdad.
"I carried them myself," said Abbas, a civil defense soldier. "These massacres have become so common."
About 20 people were killed and about 60 wounded in the suicide attack Sunday at the entrance to the U.S.-led coalition headquarters, housed in what was once Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace. Nearly all the victims were Iraqis, a reminder that they have suffered greatly in the 9-month-old anti-American insurgency.
While the target may have had symbolic value as the nerve center of the U.S. command, the attackers would have known that the people most exposed there are the many Iraqis who line up every day for security checks before entering coalition headquarters for jobs or other business.
Many Iraqis gather at the entrance - dubbed "Assassin's Gate" by U.S. soldiers - every morning to look for work, forced to make a choice between the safety of avoiding possible targets and the need to make a living.
"When they strike, only Iraqis die," said Shaima Ali, a mother of two in her late 20s, cloaked in black in keeping with her Muslim faith. "Why do you think we work with them?" she asked, referring to the coalition. "There are no other jobs."
Roadside bombings and suicide attacks have killed 230 U.S. soldiers since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major hostilities after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Yet guerrilla tactics have taken a higher toll among Iraqis: Major insurgent attacks have killed at least 280 civilians.
"These people along with the Americans are destroying the Iraqi people," said Mohammed Hussein, a 24-year-old police cadet who heard Sunday's blast in his home two miles away.
The U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council described the attackers as terrorists aligned with Hussein. The attack was plotted "to coincide with the morning rush hour to cause (the) maximum number of casualties" among civilians, the council said in a statement.
Sunday is a work day, and nearby shops and schools were already crowded when the bomb hit about 8 a.m.
One 14-year-old student, Ali Hadi, had just reached school when he heard the explosion. The building shook, glass shattered and students ducked. Still, his class went ahead with a religious studies exam.
Worried about his parents and sisters, Hadi finished his test quickly and ran out.
Nearing home, U.S. soldiers stopped him at a checkpoint and asked his address. Hadi waited for an hour before an American soldier and his interpreter emerged from a fog and comforted him.
"Your two sisters are okay," said an interpreter. "We checked all the houses in the neighborhood."
Iraqis find their plight incomprehensible, fearful of the next bombing and frustrated by the behavior of U.S.-led occupation troops.
"Don't shout at me," an elderly woman yelled in English at an American soldier who tried to keep her away from the blast site. "My son is in there, somewhere."
"I am not shouting at you, ma'am," the soldier replied, trying to keep back journalists. "If your son is inside (the compound) he should be okay."
The woman broke down and wandered away.