Blast Punctuates NPR's Story On Baghdad Security Security in Baghdad has improved a lot during the past year, but residents of the Iraqi capital still live with the constant fear of assassinations and bombings. A team from NPR's Baghdad bureau was reminded of that on a reporting assignment Sunday when their armored BMW was destroyed by a car bomb.

Blast Punctuates NPR's Story On Baghdad Security

Ivan Watson reports on the neighborhood and bombing on 'Morning Edition'

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Security in Baghdad has improved a lot during the past year, but residents of the Iraqi capital still live with the constant fear of assassinations and bombings. A team from NPR's Baghdad bureau was reminded of that on a reporting assignment Sunday when their armored BMW was destroyed by a car bomb.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. We're going to hear now a story that brings the violence in Baghdad very close to home for us here at NPR News. Even though security in Baghdad has improved so much in this past year, people there still live in constant fear of bombings and assassinations. NPR's Ivan Watson and a team from our Baghdad bureau were reminded of that yesterday.

IVAN WATSON: Residents say Rabiye Street was once one of the prettiest places in Baghdad, a boulevard of boutiques and popular cafes lined with gardens and grassy median. Today, it looks like a warzone.

Unidentified Man #1: Assalaamu 'Aleykum.

Unidentified Man #2: Aleykum As-Salaam.

WATSON: Many of the storefronts are bombed out, blasted, and abandoned. This was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city at the height of the fighting in 2005, '06, and '07. We paid a short visit to Rabiye Street yesterday to see if after several months of relative calm, life was getting back to normal. Instead we found this shopkeeper, who asked not to be named, standing in his empty pastry shop.

Have you had any customers yet today?

Unidentified Iraqi Shopkeeper: (Through Translator) Just one.

WATSON: What happened?

Unidentified Iraqi Shopkeeper: (Arabic spoken)

WATSON: The shopkeeper laughed at the question, saying everybody knows what happened in Baghdad. This place was horrible, he added. There were massacres here and dead bodies in the street. One of the only restaurants open on Rabiye Street is the Moshal(ph) kebab shop located next to an Iraqi army checkpoint. The owner, Athir Abdul El Mawjood, said he had to close his restaurant for eight months during the worst of the fighting.

Mr. ATHIR ABDUL EL MAWJOOD (Proprietor, Moshal Kebab Shop, Baghdad) (Through Translator): RPG's were everywhere in the street, and gunmen were everywhere, clashes regularly.

WATSON: Mawjood invited us in for lunch. NPR's four-man reporting team included Iraqi translator Ali Hamdani and Iraqi drivers Mohanad Adhab Mahdi and Dawood Salman. Our two cars were both parked in front of the restaurant. We were walking back to the vehicles after lunch when agitated Iraqi soldiers suddenly ran up screaming "abwah," which means bomb in Iraqi Arabic.

(Soundbite of people shouting)

WATSON: Iraqi army Lieutenant Mohamed Jabbour was pushing our drivers Mohanad and Dawood away from the cars. Seconds later this happened.

(Soundbite of people shouting)

(Soundbite of loud explosion)

WATSON: [BLEEP]

WATSON: That's the sound of our armored BMW exploding in a flash of fire about 15 feet from where we were standing. It took several shell-shocked seconds for reality to sink in.

(Soundbite of conversation in the aftermath of the bombing)

WATSON: It's our car.

Unidentified NPR team member: It's in our car.

WATSON: It's our car. They put a sticky bomb on our car.

The BMW was in flames. Miraculously no one was wounded. Someone had rigged our car with what's known as a sticky bomb, an explosive device assassins often attach with magnets to the bottom of vehicles.

(Soundbite of soldiers firing warning shots)

WATSON: Iraqi soldiers blocked traffic on Rabiye Street by firing warning shots in the air as Iraqi firefighters rushed to put out the blaze.

(Soundbite of siren)

WATSON: When the smoke cleared, Iraqi soldiers kicked at heavy armored plates that had been blown off the charred and blackened vehicle.

(Soundbite of heavy armored plates being kicked)

WATSON: The bomb had been placed under the driver's side of the car. Looking at the charred and mangled interior, it's hard to imagine how anybody inside the vehicle could have survived the blast. Perhaps the BMW's armor protected bystanders from the pieces of flying wreckage that are normally hurled by car bombs. In fact, the explosion didn't even break any of the dozens of eggs in cartons which were displayed on a street vendor's table just six feet from where the bomb exploded. Iraqi army Captain Heider Fawzi said one of the egg vendors was a suspect in the bombing because of his alleged ties to the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

You've already arrested some people, sir?

Captain HEIDER FAWZI (Iraqi Army): Yes, the owner of this shop.

WATSON: Captain Fawzi said the bomb was probably planted on our car while we were inside the kebab shop having lunch. He received a tip from an informant minutes before the bomb went off.

Captain FAWZI: We responded immediately by calling Lieutenant Mohamed who is here in the checkpoint to block the roads and stop anybody from approaching the car, because someone has just informed him that there is a sticky bomb, you know, installed on the BMW.

WATSON: You guys saved our lives.

Captain FAWZI: This is our duty.

WATSON: Many Iraqi's aren't so lucky. The Ministry of Interior says there were a total of 108 bombings in Baghdad during the month of November. They killed 148 Iraqi civilians and 22 Iraqi police officers and soldiers, while many, many more people were wounded. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Baghdad.

MONTAGNE: And you can see the destroyed car and read Ivan's story at npr.org.

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