Attacks strike heart of Baghdad

Government compound and hotel used by foreign workers, journalists hit

October 08, 2004|By Matthew McAllester | Matthew McAllester,NEWSDAY

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi insurgents struck at the heart of Baghdad yesterday, firing two rockets at a major hotel used by foreign journalists and contractors and at least four mortar shells into the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and many key buildings of the interim Iraqi government.

The attacks came a day after the embassy issued a warning to American citizens living or working in the Green Zone to be especially cautious, a warning prompted by the discovery of a bomb in a restaurant there Tuesday. It was believed to have been the first one placed in the Green Zone by insurgents.

While attacks on the Sheraton hotel and mortar rounds lobbed into the Green Zone are nothing new, a bomb placed inside the heavily fortified government compound is an unwelcome development for the thousands of diplomatic and military personnel who live and work there alongside more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians. Until now, the Green Zone has been widely considered the one part of Iraq that insurgents could attack only from outside its perimeter.

"It's only a matter of time" before someone smuggles in a bomb and sets it off, said defense contractor Mike Knapp, 50, of Texas.

The rockets slammed into the Sheraton shortly after dark, sending people rushing from the lobby, which was strewn with shattered glass. There were no reports of casualties at the hotel, which is in a walled compound just across the Tigris River from the Green Zone.

U.S. troops and Iraqi police fired back at the spot from which they believed the missiles had been launched.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers in separate bombings, one Wednesday near Fallujah and the other yesterday about 150 miles north of Baghdad.

At lunchtime Tuesday, embassy security officials found the bomb in a bag just outside the Green Zone Restaurant and Coffee Shop, a popular Iraqi-owned spot in what was once a gas station at the heart of Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace compound.

Dhia Moshe, 37, a cashier there, described yesterday how the military had used a robot to detonate the device.

"They bring a small bomb to blow up next to it," he said.

More than 10,000 Iraqi civilians live in the enclosed Green Zone and are supposed to be searched rigorously when re-entering. While many work happily with the Americans, there are also many top government officials living in what was prized housing under Hussein.

Some Americans in the Green Zone were already suspicious of the Iraqis there, and news of the bomb has only raised tensions.

"I don't trust anybody," said Knapp, drinking beer with friends at a restaurant in the zone. "Six months ago, everyone was thumbs-up and peace. Now it's just this," he said, drawing his finger across his neck.

"They don't like the Americans," said his Lebanese friend Vasken Fermanian, 32, a security consultant who said he listens to conversations between Iraqis in the Green Zone. "They hate them very much. If they have 1 percent chance to kill them, they will."

An Iraqi who sells compact discs in an open-air market in the Green Zone said the person who placed the bomb at the restaurant could have been a Hussein loyalist.

"After the war we came here and found a lot of hand grenades and weapons," said Yasser al-Ani, 21, in an area that had been occupied by Hussein's elite Republican Guard.

On the other hand, he said, he does not completely trust the recruits for the new Iraqi army.

"There are some who are allowed to get into the Green Zone, the national guard," he said. "There is no guarantee they're 100 percent loyal."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Killed in Iraq

As of yesterday, 1,064 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations. Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq at an end, 926 U.S. soldiers have died.

Latest identifications

Army Staff Sgt. Richard L. Morgan Jr., 38, St. Clairsville, Ohio; died Tuesday in Latfiyah of injuries sustained Monday when an explosive detonated near his convoy vehicle; assigned to the Army Reserves 660th Transportation Company, Cadiz, Ohio.

Associated Press

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