Car bomb wrecks Baghdad restaurant, kills 5 Iraqis
( 2004-01-01 09:45) (Agencies)
A car bomb devastated a Baghdad restaurant busy with New Year revellers on Wednesday, killing at least five Iraqis and wounding more than 20 people including three U.S. newspaper journalists.
"This is a criminal attack and a terrorist act by people who have no morals or ethics," Iraqi police chief Ahmed Qadim Ibrahim told reporters at the scene in the affluent Arasat district. "It was a car bomb filled with TNT explosives."
Much of the Nabil restaurant and a nearby house were destroyed and flames leapt from the site. The bomb went off just over two hours before midnight heralding the New Year.
"There were more than 40 people in the restaurant. It was a normal dinner, not a party," said restaurant manager Ramzi Hermuz, who escaped serious injury. "I am dizzy. I heard the sound of an explosion and the lights went out."
After the blast, dazed and blood-spattered diners staggered through the rubble in smart clothes.
U.S. helicopters circled overhead and ambulances raced to the scene as U.S. troops and Iraqi rescuers clawed through the rubble to look for survivors.
Wrecked cars were scattered across the road outside the restaurant, frequented by wealthy Iraqis and Westerners.
LA TIMES JOURNALISTS WOUNDED
The three journalists worked for the Los Angeles Times. Iraqi officials said two were British and one was an American.
"So far it's cuts and bruises but we don't have a complete report," the newspaper's managing editor Dean Baquet said. U.S.-led security forces had increased patrols in the Iraqi capital due to fears guerrillas would choose the New Year period to launch new attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqis working with the U.S.-led administration in Baghdad.
Washington blames Saddam Hussein supporters and foreign Islamic militants for most attacks in Iraq. Saddam was captured by U.S. forces on December 13.
Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, told reporters earlier on Wednesday his troops would be on high alert for possible attacks over New Year after rocket and mortar assaults in Baghdad on Christmas Day.
The Baghdad bombing occurred hours after ethnic tensions in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk boiled over into violence. At least five Iraqis were killed and more than 20 were wounded when gunfire erupted during a demonstration in the city.
Several thousand Arab and Turkmen protesters had marched on the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Kurdish factions, and surrounded the building, chanting "No to federalism, Kirkuk is Iraqi."
RIVALS TRADE BLAME FOR SHOOTING
Kirkuk's chief of police said two people were killed in a burst of gunfire. Doctors said three more people died later in hospital and at least 20 were wounded. The rival sides blamed each other for the shooting.
Witnesses said U.S. tanks and armored vehicles quickly moved in to seal off the area, fanning out near the PUK offices and a local government building to keep protesters at bay.
The violence was the latest among Kurds and others vying for power in the city, where Saddam forced out Kurds and Turkish-speaking Turkmen to Arabise the site of Iraq's richest oil reserves.
Kurds on Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council propose a future, federal Iraqi government should grant broad autonomy to the northern zone, with Kirkuk as its capital and having a say over other areas with large Kurdish populations.
The plan is bitterly opposed by Turkmen and Arabs.
In the past four days, two U.S. soldiers have been killed in separate roadside bomb blasts, raising to 327 the number of U.S. troops killed in action since the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam was launched in March.
On Wednesday, another roadside bomb exploded in central Baghdad, killing an Iraqi child and wounding five U.S. soldiers and three members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.
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