2 car bombings kill more than 20 people in central Baghdad

Similar attacks launched in Mosul kill 3, wound 12

2 hostages reported dead

October 05, 2004|By Colin McMahon | Colin McMahon,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A pair of car bombs hammered central Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 21 people outside a hotel and near a recruiting center for Iraqi security forces. Nearly 100 people were wounded.

Insurgents in the northern city of Mosul also struck with two car bombs, killing three people and wounding a dozen.

The attacks continued a bombing campaign that contributed to making September the second-deadliest month this year for U.S. forces. Eighty American troops died last month, the Pentagon said, in the worst period since May.

Yesterday's blasts in Baghdad went off near heavily fortified Western targets, including the Green Zone, site of the U.S. Embassy and many of the interim Iraqi government's offices. But they hit average Iraqis hardest.

"I was on my way downtown and I stopped to drink a cup of tea," Saad Mehsen, 35, said from his hospital bed. "I did not expect someone would do a suicide attack on this crowded street, but then I found myself going flying. The smoke and dust were everywhere."

The almost-daily car bombings have further unnerved a capital city anxious over ambushes, robberies, kidnappings and beheadings.

A militant group claimed yesterday to have killed two hostages, a Turk and an Iraqi businessman who was a longtime resident of Italy. The Arab television station Al-Jazeera said it had received videotape showing four armed men dressed in black standing behind two hostages kneeling in front of a ditch; the hostages are then shot.

Two Indonesian women abducted last week were freed unharmed, however. They were handed over to the United Arab Emirates Embassy.

Meanwhile, Poland's defense minister said his nation should pull troops out of Iraq by the end of next year. A State Department spokesman said Poland had made no official declaration on the matter and that Warsaw was expected to remain in the U.S.-led coalition until "the mission is accomplished and not on the basis of a calendar date."

The first bombing yesterday took place when insurgents detonated a four-wheel-drive vehicle packed with explosives at the Green Zone's western entrance, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. Many of the wounded were visiting a nearby recruiting center for Iraqi security forces, a frequent target for guerrilla attacks.

Khalef Hamed al-Bahadely had come from Hillah to join the Iraqi National Guard. But after the bombing, he said he would rather just go home.

Officials at nearby Yarmouk Hospital, which still was treating children wounded last week in the triple car bombing of a Baghdad neighborhood celebration, said they had recorded 15 dead and more than 80 wounded from the yesterday's attack.

About an hour later, on Saadoun Street near the foreigner-filled Baghdad, Palestine and Sheraton hotels, a pickup truck packed with dates and explosives rammed a convoy of three four-wheel-drive vehicles of the type often used by Western companies, witnesses said.

When people came to help, gunmen opened fire from surrounding rooftops. Police engaged them in a gunfight that lasted several minutes.

"The guy driving put himself between the four-wheel-drive vehicles," said Haidar Dhaher, 22, who lives on Saadoun Street, a bustling avenue with stores and workshops and sidewalk vendors selling tea, soda and cigarettes. "It was a huge explosion. I could not see anything but the smoke and body parts flying in the sky."

At least six people were reported killed and 15 wounded. The pickup carrying the explosives was ripped in half, the Associated Press reported, with one part left dangling from a shop sign on the opposite side of the street.

More than a dozen cars were burned, and a mini-bus that had been passing by was riddled with shrapnel. Witnesses said the driver and at least one passenger in the mini-bus had been killed.

Also yesterday, the U.S. military reported that two American soldiers had been shot to death Sunday at a Baghdad traffic checkpoint.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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