The Islamic State took responsibility for the fiery blast in a message on the Amaaq website, which is affiliated with the extremist group, and in a Twitter post. “The battle has just started and the coming will be worst,” the Twitter post said.
Ali al-Hamdani, who owns a restaurant less than 350 feet from the checkpoint, said, “I felt an earthquake when the car exploded.”
He added, “I immediately lay on the ground and saw flames all over the checkpoint.”
Mr. Hamdani, 54, said that he had then stood up “to check on my friends who sell tea near the checkpoint,” and that “one of them was beheaded and others were killed.”
Um Zahra, 32, a teacher, had been on her way to work in a minibus when the attack occurred around 12:30 p.m. “People were trying to evacuate injured people and burned bodies,” she said. “It was a very hard scene.”
According to the authorities, the driver tried to enter Hilla — the capital of Babylon Province, about 70 miles south of Baghdad — but was stopped at the checkpoint. He then drove forward and detonated his explosives, which shredded the truck and engulfed other vehicles at the checkpoint in flames. The dead included many of the security officers who operated the checkpoint, the authorities said.
“We have had information about it, but the security forces at the checkpoint weren’t qualified enough to deal with it properly,” said Falah Abdul Kareem, the head of the security and defense committee in Babylon Province.
In 2014, a similar attack killed more than 70 people and injured 150 at the checkpoint, known as the Artifacts Checkpoint.
The checkpoint was renovated with concrete barriers after that attack and provided with sonar devices to better detect hidden explosives. Some of the security personnel were trained to spot possible insurgents.
Gen. Ali al-Zughaibi, the provincial police commander, said that the staff members at the checkpoint had become suspicious of the driver, but that he had started driving again, aiming for a crowd and moving too fast for the officers to stop him.
As it has suffered defeats at the hands of Iraq’s armed forces, the Islamic State has struck in supposedly safe civilian areas.
On Saturday, Brett McGurk, President Obama’s envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, said at a news conference in Baghdad that the Islamic State was losing the battle with forces aligned against it in both Iraq and Syria, and that the coalition’s focus would turn to stabilizing cities seized from the group. (Courtesy New York Times)