Rockets hit 2 sites in Baghdad

Few injured in attacks

launchers concealed in carts pulled by donkeys

November 22, 2003|By Christine Spolar | Christine Spolar,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents answered a week of high-tech assaults by U.S. forces in Iraq with a bit of well-orchestrated, low-tech guerrilla warfare yesterday, using donkeys to mount rocket attacks against two hotels and the nation's Oil Ministry.

Rockets soared from launchers hidden in donkey carts in two attacks early yesterday - one on the Palestine Hotel and the former Sheraton in the heart of Baghdad, and one on the Oil Ministry. One American, believed to work for Kellogg Brown & Root Inc., was seriously injured in the hotel attack, suffering wounds to his head and torso.

The Oil Ministry building was set ablaze by a barrage of rockets launched within minutes of the assault on the hotel compound. A fire burned inside for a few hours, but ministry officials said damage was minimal.

Two more donkey carts loaded with rocket launchers were found in two other neighborhoods of Baghdad - one near the College of Law and the Italian Embassy, and one outside the headquarters of a major Kurdish political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

The apparently orchestrated attack was a brazen salvo in the war between coalition forces and a tenacious insurgency. The U.S. military has conducted numerous air assaults and bombing raids in the past week - using satellite-guided missiles and 2,000-pound bombs - in Baghdad, Tikrit, Kirkuk and Baqouba.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt, deputy director of U.S. operations in Iraq, initially dismissed yesterday's attacks as "militarily insignificant." But he acknowledged that the use of donkey-deployed warheads packed a certain psychological punch.

"They're trying to break our will. They're trying to seize the headlines," he said, adding that the attacks would only boost coalition determination.

Kimmitt said yesterday's attacks emphasized that coalition forces face a "very clever enemy who knows that we don't have the best intelligence in the world."

The attacks surprised even Iraqis.

"It's not normal. I saw the donkey in front of the store, and I was going to tell the owner he had to move because a donkey can't take up room on the sidewalk," said Walid Shimeri, a worker who was renovating a storefront across the street from the two hotels.

"But I turned, and it was only a matter of minutes ... the explosion happened. I heard the explosion, and I saw the flame from the rocket burn the donkey," he said. "I could see the rockets hit the hotel."

Rockets blasted through three floors of the Palestine Hotel about 7:30 a.m., ripping through an empty room, penetrating another where the American contractor was staying and punching a 2-foot-wide hole next to a bank of elevators.

Pedro Franseca, a Portuguese journalist, was jolted awake and quickly called to a startled roommate that "something big was happening." The two journalists ran from their room.

As they stumbled over shards of a 4-foot-long rocket and through swirling dust, Franseca had one thought: "The attack, it's here!"

Next door to the Palestine, the former Sheraton Hotel suffered minimal damage. Rockets pierced the glass skylights above the main lobby and an elevator shaft, and some hotel workers suffered minor cuts, hotel officials said.

Ghaib Khamatt, a bellman at the hotel, ducked as the rockets fell. "It was raining glass, just like knives," Khamatt said.

The attack at the Oil Ministry building occurred on a day of rest in the Arab world. No one was working at the time, and no one was injured.

The building that houses the Oil Ministry - the only ministry protected by U.S. forces after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April - also contains offices of five other ministries whose buildings were destroyed by looters. None of those offices appeared to be touched by the fire.

In the past two months, the Oil Ministry was threatened with possible rocket attacks and had increased security, employees said yesterday.

Coalition officials estimated yesterday that seven to 10 rockets hit the sprawling sand-colored ministry building. Iraqi firefighters arrived quickly, but their trucks sat idle for some time, apparently unable to reach the blaze.

All the donkeys and carts involved in yesterday's attacks were corralled by the U.S. military. Asked by reporters whether the donkeys were official "enemy combatants," Army spokesman Col. William Darley allowed that they were "deemed to have been co-opted to fulfill the will of the terrorist elements."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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