Hopes of fewer attacks dimmed

Suicide bomber used 1,000 pounds of explosives

January 19, 2004|By Edmund Sanders and Nicholas Riccardi | Edmund Sanders and Nicholas Riccardi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD - A blast that killed at least 20 people early yesterday - possibly including two U.S. citizens - outside the U.S.-led coalition headquarters was set off by a suicide bomber in a truck laden with 1,000 pounds of Soviet-made plastic explosives, authorities said.

The bombing dimmed hopes of those who expected last month's capture of Saddam Hussein to reduce the number of deadly attacks.

It also underscored the challenges faced by the United States as it attempts to lure other countries, foreign investors and private contractors to join the reconstruction of Iraq.

U.S. officials said they were still trying to determine if Americans were among the casualties.

"We have indications that some of those killed were American citizens." said Brig Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a military spokesman. "Many of the bodies, as you might imagine, because of the nature of the crime - we have not been able to determine their nationality nor their names."

A military official said early reports of two American fatalities were based upon scraps of clothing found at the scene that resembled uniforms worn by U.S. contractors.

U.S. troops and American workers here have rarely been killed in suicide car bombings. Previous attacks have taken the heaviest toll on Iraqi civilians and police officers.

Officials believe that the suicide bomber drove a small pickup truck or sport utility vehicle within 15 yards of a military checkpoint at the front gate of Hussein's former Republican Palace.

The bomber "may have inadvertently triggered it himself, or he may have felt that because of the security he could not penetrate the checkpoint and decided to [detonate]." said Col. Ralph Baker, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, which provides security for the so-called green zone, the downtown Baghdad area that houses coalition headquarters.

Also yesterday, the Danish army said an Idaho lab has released conclusive results showing that 36 mortar shells found recently in southern Iraq contained no chemical warfare agents.

Initial examinations by Danish and British troops had indicated that a blister agent was in the shells, which apparently date to the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The shells were found north of Basra on Jan. 9.

But tests by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho came back negative, the Danish Army Operational Command said in a statement.

In the suicide bombing yesterday, most of the fatalities occurred in the busy intersection outside the coalition complex, where more than a dozen cars and a city bus were destroyed, Baker said. At least 60 were wounded, including many Iraqi workers waiting to start their jobs inside the green zone.

"This act of terrorism will not deter us from moving forward and building a stable, democratic and free Iraq." said Hamid Kafai, a spokesman for the U.S.- appointed Iraqi Governing Council, which is based inside the complex.

By yesterday afternoon, U.S. investigators were sifting through the debris as workers in protective gloves and masks carried out victims in body bags.

The attack frightened many Iraqi workers who take considerable risks when they show up for work within the green zone.

Every day, Jassim Ahmed walks over the Republic Bridge to wash cars. Every day, he said, 'my heart shrinks." After the bombing, which he witnessed, he swore he would never return.

Abbass Al-Kinani has been the envy of his friends for seven months because he worked in the American gym in the green zone, made $5 a day, shared meals with supervisors at the soldiers' canteen and received gifts from the United States.

Seven of his co-workers were injured in the explosion, and he fingered his identification tag yesterday afternoon. "Tomorrow I'll go in and return my badge." the 21-year-old said. "No more."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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