- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — A senior United Nations official said yesterday that security had been stepped up at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad based on a warning tip received at least a week before Tuesday’s suicide bombing.

U.S. investigators said yesterday the attack appeared to be an inside job.

“We were on a much higher level of security protection than usual,” said David Nabarro, a senior World Health Organization official who survived the explosion. He told Agence France-Presse in Geneva that a tip from Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, prompted the higher security.

U.S. investigators looking into the bombing are questioning Iraqi employees and guards, many of whom were linked to Saddam Hussein’s security service, a top American official said yesterday.

In Seattle, President Bush said violence in Iraq can be attributed to former members of Saddam’s regime, but “foreign elements” — whom he called “al Qaeda-type fighters” — are infiltrating in the hope of committing terrorism.

“They hate freedom,” he added.

“Iraq is turning out to be a continuing battle in the war on terrorism,” the president said after meeting with economic leaders of Washington state. “We’re going to stay the course.”

Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner who is working to re-establish an Iraqi police force, said the placement of the truck bomb and the timing of the attack on the U.N. headquarters had raised suspicions.

The truck was as close as it could have been to the office of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. envoy and one of at least 23 persons killed in the blast. The bomb went off as a high-level official meeting was in progress in the office.

“Would the security guards have access to that information? Would the people who work in that building for any other reason have access to it? How were the schedules distributed? They’re very basic parts of an investigation, and they’re non-accusatory,” Mr. Kerik told the Associated Press.

Mr. Kerik said some of the Iraqi personnel at the U.N. compound initially refused to cooperate with the bombing investigation and were being interrogated.

“There are concerns about some of the people who were working there,” he said. “It’s all under investigation at this point.”

He said the United Nations was responsible for its own security guards and he was not sure whether the organization had a procedure to screen people who had worked for the former regime.

Most of the U.N. security guards at the compound had been placed there by Saddam’s security service before the war and reported on U.N. staff movements at the Canal Hotel, headquarters for U.N. inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Nabarro, the WHO official, said security at the compound had been stepped up before the attack “for about the last week or two.”

“When you come in through the front entrance they were very meticulous on security, searching underneath the vehicle,” he said.

“In fact they’d stepped up security because there was bit of a worry of something big perhaps happening, but not necessarily to the U.N.,” he added.

Mr. Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, said Wednesday he had received intelligence on Aug. 14 indicating that a “large-scale act” would be directed against a soft target, such as political parties or other parties, including the United Nations. He said the council had shared the tip with U.S. officials in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, emergency workers continued their search for human remains in the rubble of the bombed headquarters, as 86 seriously wounded U.N. workers were being airlifted out of Iraq for medical care abroad.

Two U.N. employees were still unaccounted for and an unknown number of people — visitors to the building — were still buried in the rubble, Mr. Kerik said.

A coffin bearing Mr. Vieira de Mello’s body and draped in the U.N. flag was carried aboard a Brazilian air force plane yesterday after a brief, tearful ceremony at Baghdad’s airport. The plane headed for Geneva, where his widow and two children will board before flying on to his native Brazil.

Bagpipers played “Amazing Grace,” and L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, wept as he consoled a sobbing U.N. employee.

The United Nations has said it won’t increase the number of U.S. soldiers standing guard outside its facilities from the dozen or so it had before the attack.

In Washington, the State Department yesterday issued another warning to U.S. citizens traveling to Iraq.

“The security environment in all of Iraq remains volatile and unpredictable,” the statement said.

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