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Bomb rocks Red Cross building in Baghdad
( 2003-10-27 15:17) (Agencies)

A series of explosions rocked Baghdad early Monday, including one in front of the international Red Cross building that police said killed at least two people and injured several others. The blasts came a day after after insurgents attacked a heavily guarded hotel, killing an American colonel.

One witness said Monday's bomb at the Red Cross was packed in an ambulance but there was no confirmation from police.

Iraqi police Lt. Sultan Mohammed said the blast was caused by a car bomb. He said the driver and perhaps a passerby were killed. Two cars could be seen burning in front of the building.

A Red Cross staffer, Mahdi Saad, said several people were believed to have been killed or injured inside the building, which appeared to have suffered some damage.

People rush to the scene of an explosion near the Red Cross building in Baghdad in this image made from television, Monday, Oct. 27, 2003.  [AP]
Three other blasts could be heard throughout the city Monday following the Red Cross blast, which occurred after 8:30 a.m. Witnesses said one blast was in the al-Khadra neighborhood, where the relief organization CARE is located. Another was in the al-Shaab district, another witness said.

The blasts occurred one day after a rocket attack on the Al Rasheed Hotel, where U.S. military and coalition officials lived. An American colonel was killed and 18 people were injured in the Sunday attack. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in the building but escaped injury.

Wolfowitz said the strike against the Al Rasheed Hotel, from nearly point-blank range, "will not deter us from completing our mission" in Iraq.

But the bold blow at the heart of the U.S. presence here clearly rattled U.S. confidence that it is defeating Iraq's shadowy insurgents.

"We'll have to get the security situation under control," Secretary of State Colin Powell told NBC's "Meet the Press."

The Bush administration knew postwar security would be a challenge, but "we didn't expect it would be quite this intense this long," he said.

The assault was likely planned over at least the past two months, a top U.S. commander said, as the insurgents put together the improvised rocket launcher and figured out how to wheel it into the park just across the street from the hotel.

The effect of the 6:10 a.m. volley of rockets was dramatic: U.S. officials and officers fled from the Al Rasheed, some still in pajamas or shorts to a nearby convention center. The concrete western face of the 18-story building was pockmarked with a half-dozen or more blast holes, and windows shattered in at least two dozen rooms.

A bloodied child clings to a woman carrying him to safety after an ambulance packed with explosives blew up in front of the International Red Cross building in Baghdad, in this image made from television, Oct. 27, 2003. [AP]
The modern, 462-room Al-Rasheed, housing civilian officials of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S. military personnel, is a symbol of the occupation. The assault highlighted the vulnerability of even heavily guarded U.S. facilities in Iraq, where American forces sustain an average of 26 lower-profile attacks daily, and where Wolfowitz came to assess ways to defeat the stubborn 6-month-old insurgency.

More than 15 hours after the rocket fire and after U.S. security officials flooded the neighborhood, two explosions went off in the same downtown area. An Iraqi policeman said an assailant fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. convoy next to the al-Mansour Hotel, about a mile away from the Al Rasheed. There were no casualties, he said.

A day earlier, a rocket-propelled grenade forced down a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter north of Baghdad, the 4th Infantry Division confirmed Sunday. The incident occurred just hours after Wolfowitz left that area on the second day of his three-day visit. One soldier was injured.

The U.S. command said the wounded included seven American civilians, four U.S. military personnel and five non-U.S. civilians working for the coalition. Two Iraqi security guards also were hurt. The command did not immediately identify the dead American, but Wolfowitz said he was a U.S. colonel.

A senior FBI official said the bureau, the Defense Department, the State Department and Iraqi police were all involved in the investigation. Wolfowitz and his aides were very close to the area of the hotel that was struck, but there was no indication the attack was directed at Wolfowitz, the Pentagon said.

Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey of the 1st Armored Division said he believed the insurgents timed the attack with the lifting this weekend of an overnight curfew in Baghdad and the reopening of a main city bridge.

"Any time we demonstrate a return to normalcy, there are those who will push back at that," said Dempsey, who is responsible for security in Baghdad.

Iraqi police said the attacker or attackers boldly drove a white Chevrolet pickup to the edge of the city's main Zawra Park and Zoo, just 400 yards southwest of the hotel, towing what looked like a portable, two-wheeled generator.

A police commander said on condition of anonymity that when security guards approached, the assailants drove off, but rockets within the blue trailer apparently had been set to fire via a timer and suddenly ignited, flashing toward the hotel, a clear shot looming just over the treetops.

"When he saw us, he fled," guard Jabbar Tarek said of the driver. The guards weren't armed, Tarek said, or "I would have fired on him."

Tarek and one other guard were lightly injured by rockets that exploded prematurely, Dempsey said.

"I thought my house was being destroyed, it was such a huge sound," Hamoudi Mutlag, 48, said of the rockets' impact.

An Al Rasheed maintenance worker, he was asked whether he now feared staying in his house, situated between the firing point and the hotel.

"Every place in Baghdad is dangerous now that the Americans are here," he said.

Dempsey said the attackers welded together a 40-pod launcher that held both 68mm and 85mm artillery rockets. Between eight and 10 struck the hotel, and 11 never left their tubes, he said.

The division commander said the insurgent operation required "some reconnaissance and some rehearsal," and possibly two months' preparation. The device was not sophisticated "a science project in a garage with a welder and a battery and a handful of wires" but it was effective, he said.

"There is no guarantee we can protect against this kind of thing unless we have soldiers on every block," one of Dempsey's reconnaissance officers, 1st Lt. Brian Dowd, said at the scene.

The general said his troops had to disarm booby-trap explosives attached to the trailer before towing it away.

A coalition official said on condition of anonymity that the authority later ordered the hotel evacuated indefinitely, its hundreds of guests to be scattered among other lodging places in the so-called "Green Zone," a heavily guarded district along the Tigris River that includes the palace headquarters of the authority, the offices of the interim Iraqi Governing Council, and the Convention Center housing coalition press relations and other offices.

The formerly government-owned Al Rasheed, Baghdad's best-known luxury hotel, was taken over by occupation authorities after U.S.-British forces toppled the Baathist government of President Saddam Hussein in April.

The well-planned attack was the second on the hotel, which was hit Sept. 27 by small rockets or rocket-propelled grenades that caused minimal damage and no casualties.

 
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