A suicide bomber sat for hours among hundreds of unprotected army recruits before detonating nail-packed explosives strapped to his body, killing 61 people and casting new doubt on the ability of Iraqi forces as US troops head home.
Bodies of bloodied young men, some still clutching job applications in their hands, were scattered on the ground outside the military headquarters in central Baghdad. Some of the estimated 1,000 men who had gathered there before dawn for a good spot in line were so desperate for work they returned hours after being treated at hospitals for injuries in the attack.
Though Iraq's military and police recruiting centres have been attacked repeatedly, there was virtually no security provided for the hundreds of men seeking to hand in applications on the last day of a nine-day recruitment drive at the headquarters for the Iraqi army's 11th division.
The bomber apparently walked up and joined the applicants. Witnesses said he approached an officer collecting ID cards and set off a blast that split his own body in two.
"Severed hands and legs were falling over me. I was soaked with blood from the body parts and wounded and dead people falling over and beside me," said Yasir Ali, who had been waiting outside the military headquarters since 4am on Tuesday.
After washing the blood off himself, Mr Ali was among those who came back to try to retrieve applications and other documents left in the panic and see if they could still apply. But police had sealed off the area.
"I will stay here until I find the documents. I won't go home," Mr Ali said. "I will insist on getting the job because where else do I go to get one?"
The attack was one of the bloodiest bombings in months in the Iraqi capital and was an embarrassment for Iraq's military as it tries to reassure the nation it can fill the gap left by America's departing military. At the end of this month, US troops will number just 50,000 and will be involved only in limited combat operations.
Meanwhile, eight people were today and 44 wounded after a bomb attached to a fuel truck blew up in a Shiite neighbourhood in Baghdad, Iraqi police said. Officials at the two hospitals confirmed the casualties.
The fuel tanker was loaded with kerosene and exploded shortly before 9.30pm in the north-eastern Baghdad neighbourhood of Ur.