Advertisement

Car Bombings Kill 10 in Baghdad

Times Staff Writers

An ambulance packed with explosives blew up at the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross this morning here in the Iraqi capital, killing at least 10 people and wounding at least 10 others.

“The ambulance crashed into the concrete barrier outside the building, and may have gotten through the barrier,” said Iraqi police Capt. Hikmat Amer as a huge plume of black smoke from the blast hung like a summer storm cloud over the Nidal residential neighborhood in central Baghdad.

U.S. military officials reported at least three other vehicle-borne explosions in Baghdad this morning. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling told CNN that at least 10 Iraqis were killed and at least 10 more wounded in the blast at the Red Cross, which he blamed on the suicide ambulance driver.

A Red Cross driver said 225 Iraqis work for the ICRC, though it was not clear how many were in the building at the time. He feared the death toll could rise dramatically.

Advertisement

“There are many killed,” said Ali Hussein, a doctor who was helping the wounded at Abin Nafees Hospital. “So far all the patients are Iraqis. Many of the victims were just passing by the Red Cross. This is a real tragedy. We have tears in our eyes.”

Ambulances with sirens screaming raced through the streets, taking the wounded to hospitals. Large numbers of U.S. soldiers moved quickly to cordon off the area, where a woman wailed on a street corner, sobbing that her two sons and daughter worked for the Red Cross and might have been inside.

The suicide bomber struck at 8:35 on a quiet morning that marked the beginning of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting. In addition to housing the Red Cross, the building that was attacked is home to an oil research laboratory and a private social club.

A short time after the blast at the Red Cross, another car bomb went off at a police station in southern Baghdad. Witnesses said a sedan drove through the front gate of the station, which is on a busy street, and exploded.

Advertisement

There were unconfirmed reports of many injured, and a military police officer at the scene said two Americans were among them. At least 10 cars parked at the station and on the street were damaged.

There have been at least 10 car bombings in Iraq in the last three months. Dozens of people have been killed in explosions in the capital at targets including the Jordanian Embassy, the Turkish Embassy, United Nations headquarters and the Baghdad Hotel. And in the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, an August blast at a Shiite shrine killed more than 120 people.

The bombing at the Red Cross came on the heels of a bold rocket attack Sunday on the Rashid Hotel in downtown Baghdad that killed a U.S. colonel and wounded 15 people. U.S. authorities said the attack required reconnaissance and rehearsal and was launched by a homemade weapon that probably took a couple of months to build.

Army Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who was in the hotel when it was attacked, told reporters the 40-pod rocket launcher was towed to the firing site -- a park near the Baghdad Zoo, about 400 yards from the hotel -- behind a truck that witnesses said sped away after uncoupling the launcher.

Advertisement

Eight to 10 rockets 68 millimeters and 85 millimeters in size struck the hotel, which houses U.S. military officers and staff members of the U.S.-led coalition, causing substantial damage and setting off the sprinkler system.

“I was just getting up and as soon as I heard the explosions I had no doubt [what] had happened,” said Sgt. First Class David McDonald of the Florida National Guard, whose troops help guard the heavily fortified complex where the more than 400-room Rashid is located. “It was the same noise, only louder, that we heard when the hotel was attacked Sept. 27.”

That attack caused very minor damage and resulted in no casualties. But the fact that anti-American guerrillas, for the second time in a month, were able to haul heavy weapons within a few hundred yards of a hotel used by hundreds of military and civilian officials raised serious security concerns, U.S. officials said.

“We certainly had a bad day,” L. Paul Bremer III, the chief administrator for Iraq, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Advertisement

During a 24-hour period, a helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, a civilian convoy was attacked and the Rashid was damaged by rocket fire.

“And as I’ve stressed all along, we’re going to have good days and bad days,” Bremer said. “Fortunately, the good days do outnumber the bad days. This was a particularly unfortunate one.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, speaking on NBC’S “Meet the Press,” said: “We are in this insurgency sort of situation where people strike and run, and it’s a much more difficult security environment.... We didn’t expect it would be quite this intense this long.”

Bremer, who appeared on several of the Sunday talk shows, said he would ask for a full investigation into the hotel attack, saying it showed there was still a significant terrorist threat in Iraq.

Advertisement

“We have a major terrorist problem,” he said on “Fox News Sunday,” estimating that there are several hundred “hard-core terrorists” in Iraq.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” he said that the assault showed that terrorist elements still have their hands on powerful weaponry.

“These terrorists have all these standoff weapons,” Bremer said. “They have rocket-propelled grenades, which were used in an attack against this hotel about a month ago, and now these multiple-launch rockets of some kind. We have to find out exactly what this was about.”

One American official, an occupant of the hotel who requested anonymity, said the U.S.-led coalition had relied too heavily on a static defense, had failed to make adjustments to security after the attack last month and had not stationed snipers on the roof of the 14-story building. The truck would have been well within the range of a sniper’s bullet.

Advertisement

An assessment of the first attack concluded that attackers needed only five minutes to set up and wire rockets, the official said.

The official said the spate of attacks in Baghdad in the last three months had not substantially affected civil and military operations. But he said they had helped undermine public confidence in the U.S.-led administration’s ability to provide security and stability.

Dempsey, the top U.S. military officer in charge of Baghdad’s security, said he did not believe that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who was staying in the hotel, was the target. He said Wolfowitz’s schedule was highly classified and had been changed frequently before his arrival.

Some international experts speculated that his presence was merely a lucky publicity break for the attackers, who probably knew by the extra security that some high-level visitor was staying at the Rashid.

Advertisement

Sunday’s early morning attack on the Rashid was witnessed by five members of one of the new Iraqi security services. The men had just left their post at the nearby Unknown Soldiers Monument when they came upon the attackers in a Chevrolet pickup, one of them said.

Thinking at first that the vehicle had broken down, the guard said he and his friends saw one of three men unhook the trailer -- whose cargo resembled a generator -- and connect some wires.

The rockets roared toward the hotel seconds later, at 6:08 a.m. “When the man saw us, he hurried and instead of going into the cabin of the truck, he jumped into the back,” said Jabbar Tariq Ibrahim, 27. The truck sped off, he said.

Ibrahim and one of his colleagues, Marwan Abdulkareen, 18, received minor injuries when one of the rockets misfired and struck a protective concrete wall, spraying them with shrapnel.

Advertisement

As the rockets struck the hotel with rolling explosions heard across Baghdad, occupants, some in pajamas, poured into the green zone. The evacuation was orderly and those leaving the hotel appeared calm.

Wolfowitz, unshaven and ashen but composed, told reporters the slain American was a colonel -- possibly the highest-ranking officer killed in Iraq since the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein was begun by U.S. and British forces March 20.

The wounded were seven U.S. civilians, four U.S. military personnel and four non-American coalition members, a U.S. spokesman said.

Wolfowitz, an intellectual architect of the war and a lightning rod for criticism of the Bush administration’s policies here, said the attack would not intimidate U.S.-led forces. “There are a few who refuse to accept the reality of a new and free Iraq,” he said. “We will be unrelenting in our pursuit of them.”

Advertisement

*

Staff writer Janet Hook in Washington and Raheem Salman in The Times’ Baghdad Bureau contributed to this report.


Advertisement
Advertisement