Baghdad, Oct. 12 (Reuters): A suicide car bomber killed at least six Iraqis and injured dozens in an attack at a Baghdad hotel used by US officials today, shaking buildings and shattering windows blocks away, the US military said.
It was the latest in a string of attacks on Western targets in Iraq, which the US blames on Iraqi and foreign guerrillas resisting the American-led occupation. It also coincided with the anniversaries of two major international attacks by militants on Western targets — in Bali last year and off the Yemeni coast in 2000.
Iraq’s police chief said it was probably masterminded by al Qaida or Saddam Hussein loyalists.
Eyewitnesses said a car crashed through the security barrier at the heavily-fortified Baghdad Hotel and exploded.
The hotel is widely thought to be used by members of the CIA, officials of the US-led coalition and their Iraqi partners in the governing council as well as US contractors. A US official in Washington said: “It is not a CIA facility.”
Thick black smoke poured into the sky. Sirens wailed as ambulances and fire engines rushed to the scene. Distraught Iraqis waited to see what had happened to relatives working in the area.
“I saw limbs and pieces of flesh everywhere,” security guard Kahin Hussein said. “The US soldiers were picking them up off the floor.”
A US military spokesperson said six people had died, all Iraqi. An Iraqi policeman said 10 people were killed. At nearby hospitals, people in bloodied clothes waited for treatment, relatives trying to swat at the flies hovering around them.
One hospital said it had treated 33 wounded people, another saw 19. Lying in a hospital bed in a bloodstained vest and shorts, hotel guard Ali Adel said he had opened fire on the car as it sped towards the hotel.
“The vehicle was coming towards the barrier at high speed,” he said, as he waited for surgery for shrapnel wounds. “I took two shots at it and then it blew up.”
Iraqi police chief Ahmad Ibrahim said the attack on a hotel filled with Americans and other foreigners was aimed at driving Iraq’s occupiers out of the country.
“Maybe it was al Qaida or (Saddam’s) Baath party,” he said. “They thought if they did this the Americans would be afraid and leave Iraq.”
The attack took place exactly a year after the bombing of two nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali which killed 202 people and three years to the day since an explosives-laden rubber raft rammed a US destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 US soldiers.
It deals a further blow to President George W. Bush who is trying to bolster support for his decision to invade Iraq by highlighting postwar successes. Recent polls show his popularity tumbling as the cost of the war in both lives and money continues to mount.
Ibrahim said the car used in the attack was packed with TNT explosives. It detonated 100 metres from the hotel at about 0945 GMT, blowing a crater three metres by three metres into the road. A concrete bomb wall protecting the hotel was blown over by the force of the blast.
“Iraq has just become a place of death, hatred and explosions,” said witness Safa Adil, who said he saw people diving to the ground and dying around him as the blast struck.
The US governor of Iraq said the bombing showed guerrillas would stop at nothing to disrupt the reconstruction effort.
“The terrorists will not succeed,” Paul Bremer said in a statement. “Neither the coalition nor the Iraqi people will be intimidated from our path to a democratic Iraq.”
Attacks on occupying troops in Iraq have killed 94 soldiers since Washington declared major combat over on May 1. Bombs have targeted the UN, the Jordanian embassy and a hotel used by US media. Iraqis seen as cooperating with the US led-administration have also been targeted.
Resistance to the occupation is strongest in the region around the capital Baghdad. Many Iraqi civilians have been killed in attacks aimed at the occupiers and their allies.
Earlier today, a roadside bomb struck a convoy of three civilian vehicles in central Baghdad, injuring five Iraqis, including a Shia cleric, witnesses said.
When US forces sealed off the area, a crowd gathered and one Iraqi teenager lobbed an explosive at a US Humvee armoured vehicle. One US soldier was slightly injured.