Explosions, new threats leave many Iraqis on edge

Leaflets found in Baghdad warn that schools may be targeted in attacks

October 31, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - This jittery city was unnerved further yesterday by more explosions, new threats of violence against schoolchildren, and a decision by the United Nations and international aid groups to evacuate their foreign staff from Baghdad.

Iraqi police said they arrested a motorist who tried to throw a hand grenade into a police station near the barricaded compounds housing the civilian and military wings of the U.S.-led occupation administration.

Also yesterday, an improvised bomb on a rail line exploded near the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, setting four containers on a freight train ablaze. The train was carrying military supplies, which were promptly looted by Iraqis who were seen carting away computers, tents and bottled water.

A mine or explosive device also went off on a highway south of Kirkuk, injuring an Iraqi civilian who was driving along the road, and another bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy in northern Baghdad.

A series of seemingly random explosions here over the past few days, including several mortars that fell near Baghdad University and outlying neighborhoods, have left the capital on edge as the first week of the Muslim holiday Ramadan nears an end.

Leaflets threatening attacks on schools were found around the city, convincing many parents to start keeping their children home, much as they did in the spring when a wave of street crime hit Baghdad. At least one primary school, located near the Ministry of Oil, told students yesterday that they should stay away for a week.

During the day, U.S. Army patrols cruised the city, broadcasting announcements in Arabic imploring people to inform the police if they saw suspicious activity and condemning the attackers as militants bent on destroying Iraqi freedoms.

With only one Iraqi television station on air, featuring infrequent news broadcasts, the occupation forces have turned to loudspeakers and radio announcements to communicate with the Iraqi public.

Early in the evening, as people returned to the streets after breaking their Ramadan fast at sunset, the hollow boom of an explosion reverberated through the center of the city.

At the edge of a bazaar, on a street where booksellers and writers gather each week, several old buildings were soon engulfed in flames. At least one person, a worker at a cafe, was killed and several other Iraqis were wounded, according to police and witnesses.

The cause of the fire was unclear. Police officers at the scene said they suspected a bomb or a mortar round, although the first explanation given by U.S. military spokesmen was that a propane tank had blown up.

Repercussions continued to mount from a string of coordinated suicide bombings that killed at least 34 people and wounded more than 200 on Monday. One target of the car bombs was the office of the International Committee for the Red Cross, one of the last international agencies still working here, which said Wednesday that it would remove its staff from Baghdad.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked non-Iraqi staff members of the United Nations to leave the country temporarily while officials "thoroughly reconsider our operations in Iraq and the security arrangements that we will need if we are to continue working there," Marie Okabe, a U.N. spokeswoman, told reporters here.

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