| An Iraqi official looks at a donkey cart loaded with a makeshift rocket launcher in Baghdad. (AFP)
Baghdad, Nov. 21 (Reuters): Guerrillas fired rockets from donkey carts at Iraq’s oil ministry and two Baghdad hotels used by westerners today in audacious strikes on targets linked to the US-led occupation.
Iraqi police found a third cart loaded with 21 rockets near the Italian and Turkish embassies and close to the offices of one of Iraq’s main Kurdish parties. A fourth cart was found near Baghdad’s law faculty with the donkey wired with explosives.
Flames and smoke belched from the oil ministry complex which controls Iraq’s most important industry, crucial for funding reconstruction after decades of conflict and sanctions.
Guests streamed out of the heavily fortified Sheraton and Palestine hotels, where many foreign contractors and journalists stay. Rockets punched holes in the walls and scattered concrete and broken glass across a wide area.
A US military spokesperson said the rockets — identified as Russian-made Katyushas — were aimed at the Palestine hotel but one had missed and hit the Sheraton.
“We saw a big flash — there was just one big bang and then lots of crashing glass,” said Dihyaa Salem, a manager at the Sheraton. “There was screaming as everyone left their rooms.”
A US civilian contractor staying at the Palestine was critically injured, the US spokesperson said, and several others suffered cuts from flying glass. Two rockets hit an unoccupied room in the Palestine, blowing a large hole in the wall.
Another rocket hit an external lift shaft in the Sheraton, cutting the cables on one of the elevators which crashed down to the ground floor. Debris smashed through the glass ceiling of the hotel lobby, bringing shards of glass down with it.
Reuters journalists staying in the Sheraton were woken by the blast and the shouts of panicking guests.
Colonel Peter Mansoor of the 1st Armored Division said both the oil ministry and the hotels were hit by rockets fired from launchers hidden under agricultural goods on donkey carts.
“The peace of Ramazan was once again shattered by terrorists who would target civilian structures,” Mansoor said near the oil ministry compound, as firefighters tried to contain the blaze.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, a US military spokesperson, said Iraq’s insurgents were becoming increasingly sophisticated.
“This is an adaptive enemy... He’s inventive, he’s ingenious, but we’ll continue to try to stay one step ahead.”
The attack boosted oil prices. Brent crude in London jumped 32 cents to $29.88 a barrel, while New York crude futures rose 26 cents to $32.12 a barrel after eight-month highs this week.
Iraqi police chief Ahmed Qadim Ibrahim said the attack was an attempt to target journalists and spread fear. “These were terrorist acts that aimed to frighten citizens,” he said.