Bomb kills at least 6 in Iraq

Car speeds past guards, detonates yards short of barricaded Baghdad Hotel

`Terrorists will not succeed'

Dozens wounded in attack

2 U.S. troops slightly hurt

October 13, 2003|By Christine Spolar and Bill Glauber | Christine Spolar and Bill Glauber,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide car bomber, driving through a hail of bullets toward a barricaded hotel used by American contractors and Iraqi politicians, set off a powerful blast yesterday that killed at least six Iraqis and wounded more than 35 people, military and law enforcement officials said.

Among the dead were Iraqi guards who forced the car to stop more than 50 yards short of the front entrance of the Baghdad Hotel. No one inside the building suffered more than cuts, but the 12:50 p.m. attack bloodied one of Baghdad's busiest districts and unnerved Iraqi businessmen, who quickly closed their stores.

"There is no security," said Haitham Elyas, a liquor merchant who once viewed the fortified hotel, used exclusively by the U.S.-led coalition, as one of the safest places in town. "Anybody can throw a hand grenade, do anything in this city."

The lunchtime attack was the latest in a string of unsolved car and truck bombings and assassinations against coalition forces and their allies in postwar Iraq. It came on the heels of a car bombing Thursday at a police station in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City that killed eight Iraqis.

The bomb exploded as the Bush administration embarks on a public relations campaign to bolster support for its reconstruction work in Iraq and highlight progress since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Violence has hampered the U.S.-led occupation, five months after President Bush declared an end to major combat.

L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, issued a statement yesterday, vowing that the "terrorists will not succeed." He said the terrorists "will do anything, including taking the lives of innocent Iraqis, to draw attention from the extraordinary progress made since liberation."

Details about the deadly attack were unclear last night. Military officials said there were reports that two cars had rushed the hotel and that two bombers died in the blast. That would raise the death toll to eight, including the bombers. Two American soldiers were slightly injured, officials said.

However, the lead FBI investigator said last night that one car and one driver appear to have been the source of the explosion, which gouged a 9-foot-wide crater in the asphalt and upended huge concrete barriers. One or two people could have been in the car, the investigator said.

"What's surprising is that [the bomber] thought he could get close to the hotel," said FBI agent Chris Swecker, who described the hotel security provided by DynCorp, a U.S. contractor from Virginia, as "very good."

"There were guards, gates and positions on top of the hotel," Swecker said. The attacker or attackers "might not have known that there were three checkpoints he had to get past to get to the hotel."

Witnesses said a white Toyota Corolla sedan raced toward the hotel's security perimeter. The car flew through one checkpoint, drawing gunfire from Iraqi guards and U.S. soldiers. Witnesses said the attacker or attackers fired back at coalition forces and that shortly after, the car exploded.

A second white sedan burst into flames outside the barrier about the same time, raising suspicions about possible accomplices.

"Both vehicles approached the Baghdad Hotel at a high rate of speed," Lt. Col. George Krivo said late last night. "Both were engaged with small-arms fire." Krivo said it was unclear whether the second car carried explosives.

Neal Karlinsky, a correspondent with ABC News, said he talked with Iraqi guards at a security post outside the hotel moments before the blast.

"It was a boom, a huge boom. We all hit the deck, and there was glass everywhere," Karlinsky said. "As we walked out, there were body parts where the guards had been."

A few Iraqi security officials straggled away from the blast site yesterday, one with his head bandaged, another with his pants ripped to the thigh with a bloody bandage around his knee, and another with his arm in a sling. The men, who earn $5 a day, were too dazed to answer questions.

Kindi Hospital's emergency room was filled with more than two dozen wounded guards and civilians.

"I shot two bullets, and then [the car] exploded," said Ali Adel, a guard at the hotel. Adel, who suffered wounds to his legs and face, was later transferred to a U.S. military facility.

The Baghdad Hotel has been under contract to provide rooms for members of the Iraqi Governing Council, American government workers and contractors employed by the coalition.

A member of the Governing Council, Mouwafak al-Rabii, suffered a slight hand injury in the blast.

For months, the hotel has demanded security checks for all visitors. In the past six weeks, since an increase of attacks on Western targets, the hotel has improved its defenses and added to its security force.

Iraqis in the neighborhood said they believe that CIA agents were working out of the hotel, triggering the heightened security. Coalition officials said the CIA rumors are wrong.

Outside Baghdad, coalition troops faced another assault. A roadside bomb exploded at the gate of a U.S. base in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, wounding three soldiers, one seriously, the Army said.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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