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Baghdad bleeds in blast after blast

Baghdad, Oct. 27 (Reuters): Suicide bombers struck four times in Baghdad’s Monday morning rush hour, killing 35 people and wounding 230 in attacks aimed at Red Cross offices and three police stations.

The coordinated bombings produced the bloodiest day in the Iraqi capital since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow by US-led forces in April. A bomb in an ambulance was used against the traditionally neutral Red Cross.

One US soldier was killed in the latest attacks, while three other American soldiers were killed in separate attacks overnight. The bombings brought new urgency to the struggle by the occupiers to control Iraq. They followed a weekend visit by US deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz, whose fortified Baghdad hotel came under rocket fire yesterday as his party was dressing for breakfast. Wolfowitz was unhurt, but a US soldier died and 17 people were wounded.

Iraq’s police chief and deputy interior minister Ahmad Ibrahim said 26 civilians and eight Iraqi police officers were killed today. Sixty-five police and 159 civilians were wounded.

Explosions, sirens and smoke plunged Baghdad into fear and chaos at the outset of the Muslim fasting month of Ramazan. The onslaught “is not only criminal, it’s sacrilegious”, Brigadier General Mark Hertling said.

A soldier from the US army’s 1st Armored Division was killed and six soldiers were wounded in one of the attacks on the police stations, the US military said in a statement.

The ICRC chief in Baghdad, Pierre Gassmann, told CNN television he would not seek military protection.

“That is not an option, because if you do militarise the Red Cross and the access to the Red Cross, it will be extremely difficult for the people who are seeking our help... to get access to the Red Cross. We want to avoid that,” he said.

Hertling said all the attacks this morning were suicide bombings, while a fifth had been foiled by Iraqi police. He said a suspect seized alive in that attack was carrying a Syrian passport and police claimed he said he was Syrian. After the attacks, US President George W. Bush insisted the US had no intention of quitting Iraq.

“It’s in the national interest of the US that a peaceful Iraq emerge and we will stay the course in order to achieve this objective,” he said after a meeting at the White House with the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

The suicide attack at about 8.30 am (0530 GMT) on the ICRC offices in central Baghdad killed 10 to 12 people, including two Iraqi ICRC guards and eight labourers passing in a lorry, the ICRC said. Fifteen Iraqi ICRC staff were wounded.

“I saw an ambulance car coming very fast towards the barrier and it exploded,” an ICRC guard said. Hertling said initial indications showed it had Red Cross or Red Crescent markings.

The blast blew down an outer wall and shattered windows in the ICRC building. Staff arriving for work wept at the scene.

“We always believed we were protected by the humanitarian work we do,” ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani said.

In northeast Baghdad, at least eight people died in a blast near a police station, a US military policeman said. “There are eight dead, several walking wounded,” Sergeant Mike Toole said at the scene in the Shaab district. Officials at one hospital said at least 15 people had been killed in attacks on police stations in the western Khadra district and Baya in southwest Baghdad, where the US soldier was also killed. Pools of blood stained the hospital floor.

“I was sitting in my office and suddenly there was a loud explosion and glass flew across the room at me,” said wounded police investigator Ali Tahseen of the Baya blast.

“I was taken outside behind the building and I saw a group of policemen lying wounded.”

A police official said bombs had gone off near three police stations. Police foiled another attack by killing a suspected bomber and wounding one.

The official said unexploded ordnance had also been found at a fire station and a market area.

Hertling said ICRC guards had stopped the ambulance bomb from entering the ICRC compound, so the bomber had detonated it about 20 metres from the sandbagged entrance.

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