- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003

BAGHDAD — A massive truck bomb struck the sprawling U.N. headquarters here yesterday, killing at least 20 persons including Sergio Vieira de Mello, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s representative to postwar Iraq.

Witnesses said a large truck — possibly a cement mixer — maneuvered its way close to one end of the U.N. compound between 4:30 and 4:45 p.m., and exploded with such fury that windows more than one mile away were shattered.

One witness said she had seen cement mixers moving in and out of the complex during the day where a new concrete security wall was under construction.

At least 100 persons, most of them U.N. staffers, were injured, and rescuers continued to pull victims out of the wreckage late into the night.

The United Nations last night identified seven of the dead, including one American, Rick Hooper, who worked with the U.N. Department of Political Affairs. Also named were two Filipinos, a Canadian, an Egyptian, a Briton and a Brazilian.

Mr. Vieira de Mello, whose second-floor office bore the brunt of the blast, clung to life for several hours as rescuers tried frantically to free him from the rubble, but he finally succumbed to his wounds.

“I grieve for him and I grieve for his family,” said Salim Lone, his spokesman. “But most of all, I grieve for the people of Iraq, because he was the man who could really have helped bring about the end of occupation and end to the trauma the people of Iraq have suffered for so long.”

Rubble was still falling from the building when a tearful U.S. chief administrator L. Paul Bremer III toured the site. “We will leave no stone unturned to find the perpetrators of this attack,” he said after hugging Hassan al-Salame, an adviser to Mr. Vieira de Mello.

In Crawford, Texas, President Bush vowed to hunt down the bombers and said he would not be intimidated by “terrorists and the remnants of [Saddam Husseins] brutal regime.”

World Bank officials in Washington said yesterday that four employees and a consultant working at the U.N. site were missing yesterday. The International Monetary Fund, which also had staff working at the complex, said six IMF workers were hurt in the blast and were receiving treatment last night.

All the national flags outside the U.N. headquarters in New York were removed from the poles and the blue-and-white U.N. flag was lowered to half-staff.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but a U.S. official in Washington said suspicions centered on Ansar al-Islam, the same terrorist group with ties to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network that was believed to have carried out an earlier attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad.

Others suspects include former regime groups loyal to Saddam Hussein, such as the Fedayeen Saddam, a paramilitary group.

By early evening, U.N. and U.S. officials estimated that 14 or 15 had been killed and at least 40 wounded in the attack. But the Associated Press reported 20 dead based on a survey of Baghdad hospitals, and put the number injured at 100.

“I cannot quite remember what happened,” said Abdul Rahim Jabbar, a 29-year-old carpenter who was knocked unconscious by the blast. “There was an explosion, and I fell unconscious for two or three minutes. When I came to, I heard sirens and screams. Everywhere there was dust, blood and broken glass.”

A small procession of wounded people trickled out of the smoldering wreckage of the building, covered in blood and bandages, while outside, anxious relatives kept vigil behind a perimeter established by U.S. soldiers and military police. “My daughter, my daughter,” Balkis Shemeri said as she ran toward the compound. “She’s inside.”

Another woman, who said her niece was trapped inside, screamed, “Every Ba’athist is a dog. Every Ba’athist is a dog.” The Ba’ath Party was former President Saddam Hussein’s political organization.

A constant stream of U.S. Blackhawk helicopters ferried the injured out of the compound while ambulances took the less critically injured away. U.S. soldiers surrounded the area.

Loudspeakers urged relatives of the victims to remain patient. Capt. Boyd Marler said the Army was working with Iraqi medical and rescue personnel to rush the wounded to area hospitals. “It’s horrible what’s happened here,” he said.

Though surrounded by strict security, the U.N. compound was considered a friendly place for visitors, who used an Internet cafe in the building and dined at its cafeteria.

Shvan Nouri Mohammad, a data entry clerk at the U.N. building, said security at the building had been tightened in recent days. “What can you do against such explosives?” he said. “The perpetrators are criminals who are capable of doing anything because they don’t care about anything.”

Witnesses said the roof over the lobby of the building had collapsed. From the outside, it appeared that an entire corner of the building had caved in.

The United Nations has been heavily involved in Iraq’s affairs since the implementation in 1997 of the so-called oil-for-food program, under which the world body monitored the spending of Iraq’s oil money on humanitarian projects.

The United Nations slowed operations after the U.S.-led war this year, but has been picking up again with the introduction of a $7 million jobs program and new investment in Iraq’s infrastructure.

“Many people come here to donate food and money and medicine to help Iraq,” said Sadegh Mehdi, who said two of his friends were in the building at the time of the attack. “I can’t imagine the kind of people who would do this.”

The explosion — the largest single terror attack in Iraq since the war — came just 12 days after a car bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, an explosion that killed 11.

The attack stunned U.N. staffers like Mohamad al Maini, a driver who started work for the organization yesterday. “The injuries were very bad,” he said. “There were two women near death. There was crying and screaming. People were running.”

Another worker, his shoulders covered in dried blood, said he started tending to victims as soon as he got out of the building, but he had nothing to offer them except a bottle of water.

“People were asking me to give them water, so I gave them water to drink,” he said. “Or they asked me to wash their wounds or wash their faces. So I washed wounds and put water on their faces.”

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