Bomb Near U.N. Base in Baghdad Kills Iraqi
A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb near U.N. headquarters here this morning, killing himself and at least one Iraqi guard and injuring 11 other people a month after a massive truck bomb devastated the complex.
Today’s explosion occurred in a parking lot behind the Canal Hotel, which the U.N. has been using as its main base of operations in Baghdad. According to Iraqi police and U.S. military officials, a small sedan entered the lot and, as Iraqi guards lifted the hood to check for explosives, the bomb went off.
Capt. Sean Kirley of the Army’s 2nd Armored Cavalry said that the guards were checking the vehicle and “at that point, the driver realized he was not going to get through that checkpoint and detonated the bomb.”
The blast left a large hole in the parking lot but did minimal damage to the building, approximately 250 yards away.
The blast is the latest setback to the U.S.-led coalition’s efforts to improve security in Iraq. On Sunday, the U.S. military announced that three more American soldiers had been killed in attacks, bringing the toll of U.S. military personnel to at least 303 dead and more than 1,275 wounded since the war began March 20.
The three soldiers were all killed Saturday; one died in a roadside blast near Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, and the others died when a volley of mortar fire slammed into a U.S.-run prison compound nearer Baghdad. The attack on the Abu Ghraib prison, with two 82-millimeter rounds, occurred after several weeks that have seen as many as seven assaults a night against the facility.
One of the shells scored a direct hit just before 10 p.m. Saturday on a tent containing U.S. soldiers inside the square-mile compound. In addition to the two deaths, at least a dozen soldiers were injured, making the assault one of the most serious against U.S. forces since they occupied Iraq five months ago.
The attack on the prison came just hours after gunmen tried to assassinate Aqila Hashimi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. On Sunday, Douglas Brand, chief advisor to Iraq’s Internal Security Ministry, said Hashimi was in “critical but stable condition in our hospital under the care of top U.S. doctors.” Iraqi police selected and trained by the U.S.-led coalition, and their coalition advisors, are investigating the shooting, Brand added.
Even beyond the toll it exacted, Saturday’s attack on Abu Ghraib prison was notable. In essence, the assault and its aftermath show in microcosm how the ongoing Iraqi insurgency -- and the U.S. response -- is deepening the divisions between Iraq’s occupiers and its occupied.The sprawling prison compound 20 miles west of Baghdad is separated by a six-lane expressway from the villages that U.S. military police believe are the source of the frequent mortar attacks. But interviews on both sides of the Iraq-Jordan highway in the aftermath of Saturday night’s lethal mortar raid underscore the growing gulf of misunderstanding between the Americans who came to liberate Iraq and the Iraqis they expected to welcome them -- a gap that is fuel for the insurgency.
For Sgt. Maj. Marc Emerson, the prison’s senior noncommissioned officer and a Vietnam veteran who has served 35 years in the Army, his small piece of this conflict is looking more and more like Vietnam every day.
“It started out completely different,” he said, after a night of watching casualties ferried by helicopter out of the prison. “But now, it’s starting to draw a lot of corollaries. You don’t really know who the enemy is. It’s settling into a guerrilla-type war.”
On the other side of the expressway, in the tiny hamlet of Maameer, separated by just a few hundred yards of asphalt, sand and date palms, farmer Iskander Ferhan said he blames the Americans for expanding the conflict, making the villagers feel like the enemy.
He said his widowed mother-in-law, Jassoma Mohammed Hassan, was detained along with one of her 13 children by a U.S. military patrol about two hours after the attack. Both, he said, are now interned in Abu Ghraib. Their only offense, he said, was to go out around midnight to shut off an irrigation pump.
“We expected democracy and liberation, and we celebrated when the Americans came,” said Ferhan, who is a member of the Shiite Muslim sect, which was oppressed by Saddam Hussein. “But now, it’s the opposite. We are seeing things that we did not expect, that we cannot believe.”
Army Lt. Col. George Krivo, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition occupying Iraq, said, “I have no information that anyone was detained or caught in conjunction with this attack.”
But at the prison’s main gate, Emerson offered his best guess.
There are two villages directly opposite the vast, high-walled prison compound, which the coalition has transformed from a notorious Saddam Hussein hall of horrors, with its death chambers and torture, into a modern penal facility run by the Army’s 800th Military Police Brigade and housing about 800 prisoners.
A similar attack a month ago killed several Iraqis. Emerson indicated that most of the escalating mortar assaults have hit buildings, roads and other facilities in the compound. And most, he said, come from the south -- the direction of the two villages across the highway.
One of the two villages, which Emerson called “the village of 130 houses,” is considered friendly toward the U.S. The other, “we just call the canal houses. They shoot at us every night.” But a visit to the two villages Sunday here in the so-called Sunni Triangle that harbors the most intense Iraqi resistance indicated just the opposite was more likely true. In the friendly “village of 130 houses,” officially the hamlet of Sinai, Mohammed Mahmoud was burning a pile of brush and trash when he flatly denied that anyone in the village was responsible for the prison attacks. But when asked why the American-held prison is coming under such frequent attack, he said: “Because we don’t want the occupation. We don’t want the Americans here..”
Mahmoud, who identified himself only as “an official of the Iraqi state,” explained that at least 90% of the breadwinners in the village had worked at the prison under Hussein. All have lost their jobs, he said. And all of the villagers now oppose the Americans, he added.
“Actually, I feel sorry that those soldiers were killed last night. They were human beings who were pushed into our country by their government. They are guilty of nothing,” Mahmoud said. “But they never should have entered here. They are not welcome here.”
Just up the road at the houses on the canal, which is the village of Maameer, Ferhan and his relatives said they had welcomed the Americans several months ago when they took over the prison, where thousands of Shiites had been imprisoned, tortured and killed through the decades.
But now, Ferhan said, most of the houses in their hamlet are pockmarked with bullet holes. After each mortar attack, he and other villagers said, U.S. soldiers in the prison guard towers open fire on their village. No one has been killed, he said, but most villagers are terrified.
“Last night, I was sitting with some friends at a neighbor’s house when we heard the distant sound of an outgoing mortar,” said Ferhan, who served in the Iraqi army. “We are used to such things. Then we heard the loud explosion, and we thought that it landed inside the prison. So all of us ran to our houses, because we know that, if they are attacked, the Americans will shoot at random into our village.”
Around midnight, a patrol of two U.S. Humvees rolled into their village and picked up his mother-in-law and her son, who had gone to shut down the pump because it was flooding their vegetable crop. Ferhan added that neighbors told him the pair tried to tell the Americans why they were out so late, but that they spoke no English and the soldiers had no translator.
“This is the biggest problem,” Ferhan said. “The Americans never understand what we’re saying to them. The Americans don’t understand what’s going on here.”
Staff writers John Daniszewski and David Holley in Baghdad contributed to this report.