ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
A string of bomb attacks throughout Iraq killed dozens of people today. One of the blasts, set off by a suicide bomber, struck a downtown Baghdad hotel, where a group of Sunni tribal leaders was meeting. A dozen people were killed in the hotel lobby, including a prominent Sunni sheikh who'd been supporting U.S. efforts to fight al-Qaida.
NPR's Rachel Martin is in Baghdad. And Rachel, tell us please what more you've been able to learn about this bombing at the hotel.
RACHEL MARTIN: Well, Iraqi police say that a suicide bomber was able to get through security checks at the Mansour Hotel. He walked through the checks into the middle of the lobby and detonated a vest full of explosives. That happened around noon Baghdad time. And witnesses say that the lobby was just completely destroyed. It was a chaotic scene, as you would expect. People were running out of the hotel, trying to get away in a state of panic. Police and Iraqi army were on the scene waiting for ambulances to carry away the dead and the injured.
BLOCK: You mentioned that the bomber got through security checks at the hotel. There are multiple layers of security at the Mansour Hotel?
MARTIN: Well, there are. The Chinese embassy is actually located in the hotel on the third floor. And this is also a place where American and other Western press agencies base their operations in Baghdad. It's also a place where politicians and parliament members in Iraq often hold meetings when they're outside the Green Zone.
I was just there. I was in that hotel lobby a few weeks ago, conducting some interviews. And it's generally considered a safe place in Baghdad. There are security checks. But when I was there, I only went through one, and there was no body check. And Iraqis that I've spoken to say that security there is - it's in intermittence how often people actually get checked thoroughly. So sometimes you're searched and sometimes you're not.
BLOCK: There were several high profile Sunni tribal leaders who were killed in this bombing today. What more can you tell us about them?
MARTIN: There were actually five prominent Sunni sheikhs who were killed in this attack. One very prominent tribal leader, Fassal al-Guood, he was the former governor of Anbar province and he was a founding member of something called the Anbar Salvation Council. Now this is the group of Sunni sheikhs in Anbar province who signed a pact pledging to support U.S. forces in their fight against al-Qaida. And this group has been really active in helping recruit Iraqis into the Iraqi police and the army, and encouraging members of their own tribes to do so. They give intelligence information to U.S. forces about where al-Qaida is still operating.
And U.S. commanders in Anbar say that the cooperation they get from these sheikhs is the reason that insurgent attacks in that area have gone down. And I was in Anbar province not very long ago and talked with several different sheikhs and U.S. commanders who say that this is a valuable relationship.
BLOCK: Is the assumption then that these sheikhs were being targeted and specifically because of this relationship they've developed with the United States?
MARTIN: Well, it's not clear yet, but there is a history of these tribal leaders being targeted by al-Qaida. This afternoon, I spoke with the head of the Anbar Salvation Council Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha, and he said he wasn't sure whether or not the bombing today was an explicit attack on the Salvation Council. But he said, regardless, the attack would not derail the group's commitment to fighting al-Qaida despite the risks that come from partnering with U.S. forces.
BLOCK: Okay. That's NPR's Rachel Martin in Baghdad. Rachel, thank you very much.
MARTIN: You're welcome.
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