Aftermath of the Palestine Hotel Bombing

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On Monday, three bombs blew through the concrete walls surrounding Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, where many foreign journalists stay. Renee Montagne talks with Jonathan Finer, reporter for The Washington Post, about the car bomb attacks.


In Baghdad, foreign and Arab news correspondents who reside in the Palestine Hotel are today considering a what-if scenario. What if the cement truck that was packed with explosives got 20 or 30 yards closer before it exploded? Insurgents yesterday launched a coordinated attack against the hotel where many foreign journalists are based. The force of the blast shattered glass and brought down fixtures in the 19-story building. Only a few journalists inside the hotel were slightly hurt, but 16 Iraqis outside the hotel were killed.

Jonathan Finer is a reporter for The Washington Post based in Baghdad.

And describe for us a bit more about what happened yesterday, please.

Mr. JONATHAN FINER (The Washington Post): Well, before the cement truck went through the wall that surrounds the compound where the foreign journalists and contractors stay, another car bomb went off that actually blew a hole through the barricade, creating a breach that the cement truck drove through. It seemed to get a little bit tangled up in some wiring or possibly some other obstacles that were inside the courtyard of the hotel, and as you say, it wasn't able to get very close, which was very lucky for those people who were living there at the time.

MONTAGNE: So this would appear to be one of the most coordinated insurgent attacks in Baghdad, and also one of the largest.

Mr. FINER: That's right. It was highly coordinated, involving, in addition to the two bombs I mentioned, a third car bomb, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and some small-arms fire. The national security adviser for Iraq said that there were between five and 10 for--insurgent fighters that were involved in launching these attacks.

MONTAGNE: Iraq's national security adviser has suggested there was a plan to take over the Palestine Hotel and actually take reporters hostage. Is there any evidence to support this claim?

Mr. FINER: Well, he didn't provide any, and we've heard from some other source--advisory folks that it's possible that was not likely the scenario, given that there were only five to 10 fighters that were involved in the plan and no sort of follow-on force to come in and go room to room looking for people. But it's possible that he had evidence that he did not provide publicly.

MONTAGNE: The Palestine Hotel has had at least one other big incident. In this case it was during the war. Remind us of that.

Mr. FINER: Yeah, that's right. It was, I think, April 8th of 2003. An American tank shell hit the Palestine and at least two journalists staying there at the time were killed in that incident, which I think the military's investigated and exonerated most of the people involved. But there has been talk of other courts from other countries getting involved in the possible prosecution of those soldiers.

MONTAGNE: Right. So that's a big story, too. Just finally, then, I mean, the Palestine Hotel is quite known--obviously insurgents know it--as where all the reporters stay.

Mr. FINER: Absolutely. It's definitely one of the kind of well-known symbols of the foreign presence in Baghdad, and has been, as you say, since the invasion.

MONTAGNE: Washington Post reporter Jonathan Finer is in Baghdad.

Thanks for talking with us.

Mr. FINER: Oh, thank you, Renee.

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