Baghdad, Oct. 26 (Reuters): Guerrillas today blasted rockets at Baghdad’s most heavily fortified hotel where US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying, killing an American soldier and wounding 15 people, US officials said.
Wolfowitz, who escaped unhurt, vowed that the US would not be cowed into abandoning Iraq.
The incident occurred a day after tens of thousands of protesters marched around the White House in the first large-scale demonstration against the occupation of Iraq since President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.
The bold attack on the hotel with the tightest security in Baghdad undermined Washington’s claim that it is steadily defeating the guerrillas. The rockets crashed into the Rashid Hotel around 6 am (0300 GMT), sending rapid explosions echoing across the city and throwing several guests from their beds.
Some people were carried out of the hotel on stretchers and others walked away spattered with blood after the missiles destroyed rooms on storeys below Wolfowitz’s on the 12th floor.
Wolfowitz, an architect of the US war on terror and an intellectual force behind the invasion of Iraq, was led away by security forces. He appeared composed after descending a stairwell past thickening smoke and bloodstains with a fire alarm blaring, witnesses said. But he looked shaken when he addressed reporters a few hours later.
“These terrorist attacks will not deter us from completing our mission, which is to help the Iraqi people free themselves from the types of criminals who did this and protect the American people from this kind of terrorism,” an unshaven Wolfowitz said in a trembling voice.
Guerrillas fired 20 rockets from a homemade launcher disguised as a power generator, US defence officials said. Some of the rockets did not explode and another 11 rockets failed to launch from their canisters, they added.
The rocket launcher was on a blue trailer that was pulled into a side street near a park 700 to 800 metres from the hotel a few minutes before the attack, they said. The rockets were launched using a timer. Iraqi security guards exchanged gunfire with the attackers and wounded two of them.
Wolfowitz, on his second visit to Iraq in three months, had called for the speedier formation of Iraqi security forces.
Members of his travelling party had been dressing ahead of a breakfast meeting.
One 11th-floor room was destroyed, according to a journalist who saw the devastation. Part of the ceiling collapsed, the door was blown off, a hole was punched in the wall and smoke poured from the room.
Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armoured Division, later told Wolfowitz: “I don’t think this was targeted at you. I don’t want you to take this personally.”
“I don’t,” Wolfowitz replied.