Baghdad Attacks Targets Hotels; Over 30 Killed

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More than 30 people were killed and dozens wounded in coordinated attacks on three Baghdad hotel compounds popular with Western journalists and businessmen. Iraq's government blamed insurgents linked to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Madeleine Brand in California.


And Im Robert Siegel in Washington.

And we begin this hour in Baghdad with a series of brazen suicide attacks. The targets: three hotels frequented by foreigners. The coordinated bombings left three dozen people dead and more than 70 wounded.

NPRs bureau is not far from one of the targets and was damaged in the attack. Our own Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was there and she filed this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: First, came the shooting...

(Soundbite of gunshots)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...several insurgents attacking the front gate of the Hamra Hotel, then a minibus packed with explosives pushed through detonating just yards away from the main entrance.

(Soundbite of explosion)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hamra Hotel is popular with Western journalists. Several major news organizations are based there. Wissam Mahmoud works for NBC. He was standing on the balcony when the attack unfolded.

Mr. WISSAM MAHMOUD (Journalist, NBC News): I saw the guards shooting for some insurgents, then minibus stopped there and then its a bomb. I dont know whats happened after that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The insurgents had sophisticated weapons, he says, and they overwhelmed the hotels security guards.

Unidentified Woman #1: Just minutes after a massive explosion at the Hamra Hotel, right in front of me is a large crater. The police right now are going through the rubble trying to look for any survivors. It looks like an earthquake has hit this area.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Two women are found underneath the debris. They hovel out screaming. The face of one of them is covered in white dust mixed with long streaks of red blood.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May God kill the government, she shouts. Around her are mangled cars and chunks of flesh. A severed leg lies on the ground trampled by the crowd. The insurgents targeted the Sheraton Hotel and the Babylon Hotel as well in the same neighborhood of Qurada(ph).

The blast all happened within 10 minutes of each other, clearly a well coordinated attack on places known to house foreigners. Iraqs elections are scheduled for March 7th and security has become one of the main campaign issues. If the bombings were meant to show that the Iraqi government is not up to the task of protecting this city, then they succeeded at least here.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Miserable, this is miserable. This is a disaster situation. Look at what happened, he says. The man declined to give his name, but the sentiment was echoed by many of the victims of the attack.

Unidentified Woman #3: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Everyone here is our family, she says. We are all Iraqis. All of them are our sons. Security has improved across Iraq in recent years, but militants still have the ability to carry out spectacular attacks. The U.S. military has warned there could be an uptick in violence as the election draws near.

But U.S. Forces were nowhere to be seen in the direct aftermath of the Hamra bombing. They are no longer the first responders after withdrawing from Iraqs cities. And so, Iraqs security forces and the Iraqi government was the target of most peoples ire.

And what remained at the lobby of the Hamra Hotel, Wissam Mahmoud said, he felt he would be secure here, standing amid the torn curtains, blown out windows and splintered doors, he clutched his wounded arm.

Mr. MAHMOUD: Weve always felt this place is safer place in Baghdad, but now no place safe, no place safe.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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3 Bomb Blasts Hit Near Baghdad Hotels

Smoke rises into the sky following one of three explosions near Baghdad hotels. i

Smoke rises into the sky following one of three explosions Monday near Baghdad hotels. Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke rises into the sky following one of three explosions near Baghdad hotels.

Smoke rises into the sky following one of three explosions Monday near Baghdad hotels.

Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images

Suicide bombers set off devastating explosions near three Baghdad hotels frequented by Westerners and foreign journalists, killing at least three dozen people and wounding more than 70 Monday in blasts that occurred in a 15-minute span.

The coordinated attacks came the same day that Iraq announced the execution of "Chemical Ali," Saddam Hussein's notorious cousin. Ali Hassan al-Majid was hanged about a week after he was sentenced to die for poison gas attacks that killed more than 5,000 Kurds in 1988.

Iraqi officials stopped short of declaring the blasts possible revenge for the execution.

The explosions struck the compounds of the Sheraton Hotel, the Babylon Hotel and the al-Hamra Hotel. The blast damaged NPR's Baghdad bureau, which is near the al-Hamra, but no one was injured.

The first explosion went off at about 3:40 p.m. local time in the parking lot of the Sheraton, toppling high concrete blast walls protecting the site and damaging a number of buildings along the Abu Nawas esplanade across the Tigris River from the Green Zone. Two other blasts followed minutes later, striking near the Babylon and the al-Hamra.

Wissam Mahmoud, who works for NBC, told NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro that the attackers at the al-Hamra had sophisticated weapons and overwhelmed the hotel's security guards.

Iraqi police evacuate a victim of bomb attacks in Baghdad. i

Iraqi police evacuate a victim of bomb attacks in Baghdad. Khalid Mohammed/AP hide caption

toggle caption Khalid Mohammed/AP
Iraqi police evacuate a victim of bomb attacks in Baghdad.

Iraqi police evacuate a victim of bomb attacks in Baghdad.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

"I saw the guard shooting [at] some insurgents," Mahmoud said. "And then a minibus [drove in and] stopped there, and then [an] explosion. I don't know what happened after that."

Garcia-Navarro said the attack at the hotel compound left a crater about 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide, indicating that the vehicle was "clearly carrying a very large payload."

"It's such a scene of devastation. Mangled cars ... and bits of bodies littered around the area," she said.

Two women were found underneath the rubble, one of them covered in dust with long streaks of blood running down her face. "May god kill the government," the woman shouted.

Baghdad's top military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said suicide bombers were involved in all three attacks.

Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the death toll was expected to rise. According to initial tallies, 15 people died at the al-Hamra, 14 at the Sheraton and at least seven others at the Babylon, including two policemen.

The al-Hamra has been targeted in the past. In November 2005, suicide bombers, using a van and a water tanker packed with explosives, penetrated the building's interior, killing eight Iraqis.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday's attacks, which come about six weeks after a series of blasts killed 127 and brought an outcry against Iraq's government for repeated security lapses as U.S. troops withdraw.

"The people we've talked to are extremely upset," Garcia-Navarro said. "They blame [the latest attacks] on the Iraqi government. They say it's another example of the lack of security that exists around Iraq."

Security has become one of the main issues leading up to national parliamentary elections scheduled for March 7, and the bombings could be meant to show that the Iraqi government is not up to the task of protecting the capital.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the latest bombings "represent an extension" of the activities of insurgents linked to Hussein's regime. However, he did not tie Monday's attacks to Chemical Ali's execution.

Al-Majid was one of the last members of Hussein's inner circle to go on trial in Iraq.

In 1988, as the eight-year Iran-Iraq war was winding down, al-Majid led a campaign against a Kurdish rebellion in the north that killed an estimated 100,000 people — most of them civilians — in less than a year. Al-Majid later boasted about the attacks, as well as a gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja on March 16, 1988, that killed about 5,000 people.

From NPR staff and wire reports



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