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Blasts kill five in Baghdad's green zone
Updated: 2004-10-15 01:23

Insurgents penetrated Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone and detonated explosives at a market and a popular cafe Thursday, killing five people, including four Americans, in the first bombings inside the compound housing the U.S. and Iraqi government headquarters.

A top Iraqi official said the attacks appeared to have been suicide bombings.

Witnesses said two men, each carrying a backpack but not required ID badges, entered the Green Zone Cafe full of Americans and other patrons at around lunchtime, drank tea and talked to each other for nearly half an hour — one of them appearing to reassure his more nervous colleague.

One of them then left and soon after an explosion was heard, then the man who remained in the cafe detonated his bomb moments later, ripping through the building, said an Iraqi vendor who was in the cafe at the time.

The attack was a bold assault on the heart of the U.S.-Iraqi leadership of the country and a serious setback to the Bush administration's campaign to pacify postwar Iraq.

Tawhid and Jihad, the militant group of Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the blasts, saying they were "martyrdom" or suicide attacks.

Also Thursday, two U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad, one in a roadside bombing in the morning and the second in a shooting in the afternoon, the military said. As of Wednesday, 1,081 U.S. servicemen had been killed in Iraq since March 2003, according to a Defense Department count.

The Green Zone, a district of former Saddam Hussein palaces in a bend of the Tigris River, was set up under the U.S. occupation to house Americans involved in the administration. It came to resemble a suburban "Little America" in central Baghdad — with green lawns, restaurants, American television, U.S. area codes, even at least one swimming pool set up behind barricades and multiple checkpoints.

Since the June handover of sovereignty, the Iraqi government has set up its offices there, but hundreds of Americans remain as part of the U.S. Embassy. In the increasing violence of recent months, the American civilians rarely leave the Green Zone. Around 10,000 Iraqis also live within the four square-mile zone, residents of the apartment buildings that had to be included within the perimeter. They need IDs to move in and out of the area.

Thursday's attack raised fears over security in the compound and underscored militants' ability to strike in the capital even as U.S.-Iraqi forces are carrying out a new offensive to suppress them in other parts of the country ahead of January elections.

Insurgents have frequently fired mortar rounds at the compound, and there have been a number of deadly car bombings at its gates. But this was the first time a bomb was successfully brought in and detonated.

One bomb ripped through an outdoor bazaar that caters to Westerners, selling everything from mobile phone accessories to pornographic DVDs.

The second blast took place at the Green Zone Cafe. Witnesses said around 20 other patrons were in the cafe at the time, about half of them American. Last week, an improvised bomb was found and safely defused at the same cafe.

A U.S. military statement said the bombs were "hand-carried" into the zone and that five people were killed in the blasts and 20 people wounded, including one U.S. soldier, an American airman and two U.S. civilians, the statement said.

U.S. officials in Washington said the four Americans killed in the blasts were employees of the private U.S. security firm DynCorp. The officials said two State Department officials and another DynCorp employee were among the wounded.

Iraq's national security adviser Qassem Dawoud said "initial information" indicated the attacks were suicide bombings. "This cowardly act will not go unpunished," he told a news briefing at the Green Zone. "We will strike them wherever they are."

After the blasts, the U.S. Embassy "strongly encouraged" Americans in the Green Zone to avoid the bazaar and restaurants inside the compound, limit their movements, travel in groups and carry several means of communication.


An Iraqi vendor who was in the cafe at the time of the blast said the two men believed to be the bombers "walked into the restaurant carrying two large handbags."

One of the men appeared shaken and nervous and the other appeared to be "reassuring him to do something, but we could not hear what it was," said the Iraqi, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared it becoming known he works in the Green Zone.

He said he and another companion attempted to inquire about the two men when they started suspecting them. The waiter who took the men's orders said they spoke in a Jordanian accent.

One of the men left the building, took a taxi and a couple of minutes later "we heard a loud boom."

"It was then that the second bomber blew himself up," the witness said, struggling to hear the questions after the explosion had marred his hearing. "I fell on the floor, then quickly gathered myself and ran for my life."

Mohammed al-Obeidi, the owner of a nearby restaurant who was wounded by flying glass from the cafe blast, said security in the zone has weakened since Iraqi police took a greater role with the June handover of power.

"Before it was really safe. They (the Americans) passed it over to the Iraqis ... the Iraqi Police. When they see someone they know, it's just, 'Go on in.' They don't understand it's for our safety," al-Obeidi said.

The Tawhid and Jihad group, led by the Jordanian al-Zarqawi, has claimed a series of bloody bombings across the country as well as the kidnapping and beheading of a number of foreign hostages — including three Americans.

Another group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army posted a video Thursday on the Web showing the beheading of a man identified as a Turkish driver.

More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the insurgency began.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up military operations in Sunni militant strongholds across a wide swathe of territory north and west of Baghdad on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which last year saw a surge in rebel attacks.

U.S. warplanes on Thursday struck at least three sites in the insurgent-held city of Fallujah that the command said were being used by followers of al-Zarqawi. At least five people were killed and 16 wounded in all, according to Fallujah General Hospital.

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