U.S. missiles strike Iraq Hotel bombing fans anti-U.S. sentiment 1 killed at site of Islamic meeting

January 18, 1993|By Mark Fineman | Mark Fineman,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The air-raid sirens wailed outside Baghdad's al-Rashid Hotel at 10:05 p.m. Sunday. Almost instantly, Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries exploded in yellow bursts and red tracer fire, ringing the city.

And, before Dr. Ahmad Rashed could put down his food in the restaurant, an explosion tore through the hotel's cavernous lobby, shattering floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows, sending thousands of glass shards ripping through leather couches, the ceiling, a grand piano and a young receptionist.

The woman, named Amira, was killed. At least 15 people were injured in the state-run hotel that was packed with hundreds of delegates from throughout the Muslim world for a three-day International Islamic Conference.

It may not have been clear to the outside world just what made the 25-by-10-foot crater that gaped next to the hotel at the end of an American missile attack on the Iraqi capital. But, amid the rubble and wounded inside the hotel, it was painfully clear that blast would only serve to deepen the Islamic world's mistrust for America and its allies.

"We believe they [the Americans] targeted this Islamic conference," Dr. Rashed, a Palestinian delegate from Jordan, calmly concluded as he stood in a half-inch of water, glass and bloodstains in the hotel's lobby.

As Iraqi soldiers carried wounded young women in stretchers through another section of the lobby, another Palestinian delegate, Sheik Kamal Nasser al Ainkawi, shouted, "They knew there was an Islamic conference here. The hotel was targeted. This is a dirty, filthy American plot -- to hit at all people who sympathize with the Iraqi people and their leadership."

A German hotel guest seethed with fury, saying he was saved when the blast blew the window of his room into his bed because he had gone to brush his teeth.

"I want to kill the first American I see," he told a reporter. He said he had been one of the thousands of foreign "guests" taken hostage by Baghdad after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and that he had returned to Baghdad only Sunday "to meet old friends." He, too, thought the attack was intentional because of the conference.

Although there was no evidence conclusively linking the explosion to the U.S. missile, Iraqi soldiers and technicians at the scene were loading a truck with pieces of burnt metal recovered from the crater, among them at least one charred piece with gears bearing the name of an American manufacturer.

At Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital, there was a steady parade of injured women, men and children. One woman wailed as her uncle described how his mother was killed and his niece was wounded when "a missile hit our house."

Amar Ismail said his house and those of three neighbors were destroyed in Baghdad's Karada neighborhood, which is not located near the Rashid Hotel or the site of what the United States said was a targeted Iraqi nuclear research facility.

When asked why his house was hit, Mr. Ismail shrugged. "Maybe they did it because we were near a suspension bridge."

President Saddam Hussein visited at least one hospital. At the bedside of Peter Brinkmann, a German reporter who suffered a head wound in the Rashid blast, he said: "Now you see it. Tell the world that they are always bombing civilian targets."

At the hotel, Iraqi guests, employees and government workers registered the climax of an anger that had been building throughout the day.

"Bush is a dog," shouted one Iraqi hotel worker as a female colleague was being wheeled past in a stretcher. "Let him fight the men -- not the women."

An Iraqi bellhop whispered more quietly. "OK. Kuwait was a mistake. But does that mean they have to kill everybody?"

The missile attacks on the capital were something of a catharsis of anger, fear and pain at the grass roots of a city that had spent the day in defiant celebration to mark the moment on Jan. 17, 1991, when so many more bombs and missiles had targeted their capital.

At 8 a.m. sharp Sunday, the girls at Al Aqeeda High School gathered in the morning chill inside a courtyard for nearly a half hour of songs, slogans and speeches of "victory."

"Bush is gone! But Saddam remains!" chanted nearly 1,000 smiling teen-agers. "Iraq has won!" they continued. "Saddam has won! Bush has lost!"

"Of course Iraq won the war," said 17-year-old Dalia Zeyad in perfect British English. "We stood against 30 countries, and it was really a hard thing to do. They hit us very hard, and we stood up to it. This was a brave thing for us to do."

The day of celebration appeared to many outsiders to be a largely stage-managed affair. Tight controls were evident. At Al Aqeeda High and thousands of other schools pupils were carefully led in each chorus by loyal supporters of Hussein.

But much of the emotion on the streets was authentic nationalist pride among a people increasingly consumed by frustration, poverty and confusion amid their nation's continuing ostracism and isolation.

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