Attacks kill 9 Iraqis, injure 17 U.S. troops

Death toll in hotel blast is corrected to 7

officials blame confusion for error

March 19, 2004|By Mark Magnier | Mark Magnier,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Car bombings, mortar attacks and assassinations left nine people dead across Iraq yesterday as military officials braced for further attacks in the run-up to tomorrow's one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Authorities said the milestone was an added cause for vigilance although they couldn't tell whether a rash of attacks this week has been coordinated.

"The best and only way to prepare for that is to be on the offensive," said Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey.

"You can't sit back and wait for terrorists to pick the point of his choosing to attack you."

Yesterday's toll included four Iraqis killed in an explosion near a hotel in the southern city of Basra; three Iraqi employees of a U.S.-funded television station shot dead on a highway northeast of Baghdad near Baquba; and two Iraqi civilians killed, one of them a child, along with 17 American troops injured, in a mortar attack on a fortified city hall in Fallujah, west of the capital city.

Late in the day, rockets hit two hotels used by foreign contractors near the Green Zone, the secured area in central Baghdad where the U.S.-led occupation authority is based. No serious injuries were reported.

The spate of attacks followed Wednesday night's bombing at the Mount Lebanon Hotel in downtown Baghdad that destroyed the five-story structure and nearby houses, leaving a 10-foot-deep crater.

In a sign of the chaos that sometimes follows major attacks, the U.S. military downgraded Wednesday's death toll to seven from 27, blaming the change on early confusion.

Military officials said a British national staying at the hotel was among the dead, and local residents said several others were killed in a house owned by a Christian family across the street from the hotel.

Friends and neighbors of the victims gathered yesterday at the site of the blast, which U.S. officials said was caused by a car bomb, to begin the painful job of rebuilding shattered lives, homes and businesses.

In what had been the lobby of the hotel, blood smeared the walls near a debris-dusted table still set for dinner.

Some U.S. military officials said the narrow street of hotels, shops and homes in the Karada neighborhood might not have been the intended target.

They speculated that the bomb-laden car exploded prematurely while en route to another location such as the World Health Organization offices a block away.

Others were less sure. "They do reconnaissance before these operations," said Dempsey. "The idea of their getting lost is a little hard to swallow."

As insurgents strike at more "soft" targets, particularly those where foreigners work or reside, managers at smaller hotels dotting Baghdad's back streets said they felt increasingly vulnerable. Most lack the concrete barriers, guards or setbacks of their larger counterparts.

In response, some said yesterday that they planned to block off streets and erect barricades; others said they would turn away foreign guests.

"There's not enough concrete in this hemisphere to protect every hotel in Baghdad," said Dempsey.

As a crowd milled in front of the charred hotel, combing through the wreckage, a U.S. military psychological operations officer handed out leaflets that called on Baghdad residents to turn in insurgents in order to forge a new Iraq.

"Your future is the light of the sun, which will disperse terrorists as it dispersed the beetles hiding in the dark," read one of the Arabic-language fliers.

His efforts seemed to be far outweighed, however, by rumors that surged through the crowd.

Well-dressed men and others in tattered clothes offered a range of views on the attacker's motives and methods. But the crowd seemed to be in near-total agreement on one point: that the United States was at fault.

"It's 100 percent sure the Americans arranged this attack," said Safa Hussein Ali, 24, a tire repairman, standing at the entrance to his badly damaged house. "They're using very sophisticated computers to carry this out because they want to create more disturbances and stay longer."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Killed in Iraq

As of Thursday, 568 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations and 2,842 U.S. service members have been wounded. Since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 430 U.S. soldiers have died.

Latest Identifications

Army 1st Lt. Michael R. Adams, 24, Seattle; died Tuesday when the barrel of the weapon mounted on his tank struck him in Al Asad, Iraq; assigned to the 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colo.

Army Sgt. Daniel J. Londono, 22, Boston; died Saturday when an explosive struck his vehicle in Baghdad; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 504th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

Army Pfc. Joel K. Brattain, 21, Santa Anna, Calif.; died Saturday when an explosive struck his vehicle in Baghdad; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 504th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

Army Staff Sgt. Clint Ferrin, 31, Ogden, Utah; killed Saturday when a bomb exploded under his Humvee in southeastern Iraq; assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

National Guard Spc. Jocelyn Carrasquillo, 28, Wilmington, N.C.; killed Saturday when his convoy hit a land mine; assigned to 1st Battalion, 120th Infantry Regiment, Wilmington, N.C.

Army Staff Sgt. Joe L. Dunigan Jr., 37, Belton, Texas; killed March 11 when his vehicle was hit by an explosive in Fallujah; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

Army Spc. Christopher K. Hill, 26, Ventura, Calif., killed March 11 when his vehicle was hit by an explosive in Fallujah; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan.

Associated Press

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