Car bomb attack on Baghdad hotel leaves 17 dead

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The Independent Online

Scenes from hell come everyday in Iraq, but last night's carbomb cut down the innocentwith savage abandon.



Scenes from hell come everyday in Iraq, but last night's carbomb cut down the innocentwith savage abandon, destroyingnot only a hotel but an entireextended Iraqi family -children, wives, mothers, Egyptiansecurity workers - whowere watching the Iraqi-Saudifootball finals on television.

It also planted another seedof hatred in Iraqi hearts forthe occupiers who claim tohave liberated them a year ago.The target was the Jebel Lubnan- Lebanese Mountain - hotel and American workerswere wounded but, as so oftentoday, the Iraqis were the principalvictims.

There were atleast 17 dead, including one Briton. From the swaying wall of ablasted building opposite theruins, I watched them pulling thecorpses - let us speak frankly, thebits of corpses - out of the rubbleof the Zeir family home whilehundreds of angry menscreamed at American troops tolet them rescue the wounded.

The troops refused to allowthem to help and within an hourof the explosion, the word hadgone around: the Americanshad set off the blast; the carbomb was not a car bomb, but amissile fired from a helicopter.The children's bodies were moreor less intact. The adults cameout in parts.

The bomb - it was, of course,in a car and the crater was 20feet deep - had detonated in anarrow street in the Karadadistrict of Baghdad, scarcely500 yards from the plinth onwhich the statue of SaddamHussein was pulled down byAmerican troops in front of theworld's cameras on 9 April lastyear when US forces enteredthe city.

The bombing followedthe killing of at least sevenWesterners and an unknownnumber of Iraqis over the pastfour days in Iraq.Only a day earlier, accordingto Raad Nasr who lived oppositethe hotel, the staff of the Motorolatelephone company hadmoved out of the Jebel Lubnan,a cause for further suspicion -were they warned of the bomb,the neighbours demanded toknow? - and the bomber set offhis explosives opposite the Zeirhome and a house for guards ofthe Baghdad Private Hospital.

Most of the latter, like the Motorolaworkers, were Egyptian.The Zeirs - a Christian family,for this street of the city is asmall Christian enclave - werenot only watching the footballmatch but receiving guests whowanted to visit a female relativewho was ill. At this moment, thebomber arrived.

The explosionsmashed windows a mile away,set the hotel on fire and turnedsurrounding houses into piles ofbricks, wood and body parts.Like many smaller hotelsclose to the Palestine Hotel, thebase for major internationalnews agencies in Baghdad, theJebel Lubnan had few securitymen outside and depended on itsanonymity for its protection.

For days now, the occupationauthorities have feared thatguerrillas would strike at 'soft'targets in Baghdad to provethat the Americans cannot maintainsecurity a year after the invasion.

The explosion occurredin the middle of the UnitedStates' huge troop rotation inIraq - the largest in the US military'shistory - when up to250,000 American soldiers are inthe country.

The US authorities announcedlater that Americancitizens had been wounded, astatement that only further enragedthe men and women desperatelyseeking news of theirloved ones. 'We are suffering -us - and they don't care', awoman in a black abaya gownscreamed at me. 'Why is it onlyyou people who are so precious?It is us who are dying.'

Officers of the new Iraqi policeforce, Iraqi fire brigade personneland even some of thewounded were clawing at therubble in their effort to find survivors.But everyone we sawbrought from the smashed houseswas dead; their last journeyto the ambulances wreathed insmoke from the still smoulderingfires. In the darkness, US helicopterswere circling the fire,a symbol of impotence in the faceof the ever-growing insurgencywhich is consuming Iraq.

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