Suicide bombers driving two cars attacked a central Baghdad hotel yesterday where senior US officials and CIA agents are thought to have been staying. At least six people were killed and 32 wounded.
All of the dead and most of the injured were Iraqis. But the blast, aimed at a hotel full of American officials, showed the effectiveness of the resistance in its campaign to destabilise the US presence.
The heavily guarded Baghdad hotel was used by American officials, security agents, members of the Iraq Governing Council and US building contractors. It was also believed by Iraqis to house members of the CIA and there were rumours in Baghdad that it was home to members of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
The bombers struck shortly after midday. Witnesses said one was driving a Toyota. He suddenly swerved out of a lane of traffic on Sadoun Avenue, a busy commercial road, and rammed his vehicle through the gates in the 12-foot concrete defences around the hotel.
Simultaneously, according to a US military spokesman, a second saloon car coming in the opposite direction smashed into the barrier at high speed.
American and Iraqi security guards opened fire and stopped the cars reaching the hotel.
Lieutenant-Colonel George Krivo, a US military spokesman, said: "The cars swerved around and attempted to avoid the checkpoint and then there was a detonation and an explosion."
Whether both cars were packed with explosives is not clear. A thick plume of grey smoke rose above the city immediately after the blast. Amar Mahdi, a driver, his skin bloody where it had been punctured by flying glass and metal, said: "Suddenly I saw a white car coming towards me and the guards running away and then my own car was hurled backwards by the blast. I think two of my colleagues were killed."
Luai Ali was lying in a bed in al-Kindi hospital, his T-shirt soaked with blood. He was working in a travel agency overlooking the place where the bomb went off. He said: "I always expect violence in Baghdad but I did not think it would be something as huge as this."
Kahin Hussein, a security guard, said: "I saw limbs and pieces of flesh everywhere. The US soldiers were picking them up off the ground."
The hotel, about 70 yards from the explosion, was not extensively damaged but Mouwafak al-Rabii, a member of the Iraq Governing Council, whose members were chosen by the US, hurt his hand in the blast. Hotel guests were seen leaving with suitcases. They said that their rooms had been damaged by the blast. American troops and Iraqi police sealed off the area with barbed wire and armoured vehicles.
With all traffic stopped, there was a silence in the street broken only by the sound of falling glass as shopkeepers cleared away shattered panes.
Yesterday's attack was the second suicide bombing in Baghdad in four days and the latest in a series of attacks on carefully chosen targets.
On Thursday, a bomber drove into a police station in Sadr City, a Shia Muslim slum in east Baghdad, and blew himself up, killing 10 people.
In August, bombs destroyed the Jordanian embassy and the United Nations headquarters. The second attack killed Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN envoy, while a third bomb killed 85 people in Najaf, including the Shia leader Mohammad Bakr al-Hakim.
Last month, Akila al-Hashimi, one of three women on the governing council, was murdered. Iraqi police recruited by the Americans have also been attacked by the resistance. More than 90 US troops have been killed since the Americans declared the "combat phase" over on 2 May.
All of the attacks appear to have been aimed at preventing the American-run Provisional Authority stabilising its rule.
Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator for Iraq, said in a statement that the Iraqi people were "succeeding in the reconstruction of Iraq", adding that "the terrorists will do anything, including taking the lives of innocent Iraqis, to draw attention away from the extraordinary progress made since liberation".
President George Bush and his senior officials launched a high-profile campaign in Washington last week to promote the view that life in Iraq was returning to normal.
Yesterday's explosion in the heart of the capital, in a street crowded with shops, left those claims looking hollow.Reuse content