Iraq’s Foreign Contractors in Cross Hairs of Insurgents

Times Staff Writers

A car bombing that killed 13 people here Monday, including five contractors, was the latest in a series of attacks targeting foreigners who are trying to rebuild Iraq.

The explosion caused havoc in the heart of the capital, and the chaos was compounded when young Iraqis took to the streets to celebrate the carnage. They brandished chunks of the wreckage while chanting anti-U.S. slogans, jostling other Iraqis who came to gawk at the charred remains of the foreigners.

With the hand-over of sovereignty from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to the interim Iraqi government well underway, insurgents have stepped up the violence against Iraqis and the foreign contractors hired to rebuild such shattered infrastructure as the electrical system.


Three of the contractors killed Monday worked for a General Electric subsidiary, Granite Services Inc., and two were security contractors who protected the GE team, said Gary Sheffer, a GE spokesman in Connecticut who was reached via e-mail. Most GE workers in Iraq are focused on generating more electricity, Sheffer said. Blackouts continue to plague the nation and undermine the authority of the U.S. and its allies.

The U.S. command said two of the dead were British, one was American and one French. Associated Press identified the fifth foreigner as a Filipino engineer. Their deaths swelled the toll of foreign contractors killed by insurgents, which numbers in the dozens.

There is no definitive tally of the number of contractors killed, but one major company, Houston-based Halliburton, said it had lost 39 employees in the Iraq-Kuwait region since the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003. Halliburton employees are helping restore the oil infrastructure and providing support to coalition troops.

The GE men were apparently traveling from the nearby Green Zone -- the administrative headquarters of the U.S.-led occupation -- in a three-vehicle convoy of easily recognizable sport utility vehicles, which are favored by foreign workers here but have proved to be enticing targets. Relatively few Iraqis drive SUVs. A car bomb went off as the convoy passed by a spot in Tahrir Square, about half a mile from the Green Zone, authorities said.

The blast injured 62, mostly Iraqi civilians who happened to be in the area when the bomb went off, destroyed passing vehicles and collapsed a nearby building. At least three foreigners were injured.

It remained unclear late Monday if the device was detonated by a suicide bomber or via remote control. Both styles of attack have become commonplace in Iraq.


For months, most strikes on contractors occurred on roads outside Baghdad, typically in ambushes of SUVs. Attackers have recently begun hitting vehicles ferrying contractors within the capital, greatly increasing dangers to both foreign workers and Iraqis in the traffic-clogged city.

It was at least the 16th car bombing in Iraq this month, as a bloody insurgent campaign of bombings, ambushes, sabotage and assassination has intensified before the scheduled June 30 transfer of power to an Iraqi government. On Sunday, a suicide car bombing outside a U.S. base killed a dozen people, all Iraqis.

Two Iraqi officials and a professor were killed over the weekend, and two Iraqi officials survived assassination attempts.

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi blamed what he called the “cowardly” attacks on affiliates of the Al Qaeda terrorist network and vowed that his government would resist the stepped-up insurgent strikes.

The devastation in Tahrir Square provoked scenes of macabre revelry as young men set the damaged vehicles ablaze while dousing the rubble with beer and liquor looted from a nearby store that was destroyed in the blast. Some danced on the roof of one SUV while others chanted “God is great!” and raised their fists.

It was reminiscent of the scene in Fallouja on March 31, when four American contractors were killed.


When the fires died down Monday, hundreds of young men and boys lingered at the scene, jostling around one of the smoldering vehicles to look at the burned remains. Intense heat radiated from the window openings; a charred body lay in the burned-out passenger compartment.

“Down USA!” a man told a reporter in English.

Piles of burst Heineken and Amstel beer cans -- apparently taken from the destroyed store -- littered the scene. By 10 a.m., about two hours after the blast, the temperature approached 100 degrees. The air was hazy with smoke from the vehicles and smelled of burning paint and plastic from the cars and the odor of beer evaporating on the hot asphalt.

As the revelry subsided, children carrying plastic trash bags gathered the cans for recycling. A small boy rode a rickety, rusted bicycle around the broken glass and litter. Young men picked over the wreckage either for salvage or souvenirs.

Edgy U.S. troops arrived and trained their guns on the neighborhood young men, many of whom had gathered to look for work.

At hospitals, dozens of injured Iraqis bemoaned an act of terror that produced more Iraqi than Western casualties.

At Kindi Hospital, Kadhum Hanash explained that he had left his 12-year-old son, Rafe, at a small stand where the father sells cigarettes and candy.


“I went to bring two sandwiches from a nearby pushcart,” Hanash said as he stood vigil by his seriously injured son, who had blood covering much of his body and had been left unattended by busy doctors. “After the terrible explosion, I rushed to see my son lying on the ground.”

Special correspondent Suhail Ahmed contributed to this report.