- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

A leading Iraqi-American businessman said yesterday that he and others who were cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition had received a series of written warnings of an attack days before the bombing last week of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

At least one additional message threatening more attacks has been received since the bombing Tuesday that killed 23 persons, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. official in Iraq, the businessman said.

The warnings, typed in Arabic and English, named several targets, including the Palestine, Rasheed and Ishtar-Sheraton hotels, where U.S. and other foreign nationals are known to work, said Rubar Sandi, who just returned to Washington from his third trip to Iraq since the spring.

The initial letter was delivered Aug. 14, five days before the blast at the U.N. headquarters.

The Canal Hotel, which housed the headquarters of the United Nations and was destroyed in the bombing, was not mentioned by name.

But the letter did refer to other sites used by expatriates as well as Iraqis cooperating with the coalition.

“The American soldiers and American and Jewish businessmen occupying Palestine Meridian hotel, Ishtar Sheraton hotel, Al-Rasheed hotel, conference palace and president palaces will be target to Iraqi resistance forces starting from 8:00 p.m. of Saturday 16th August,” said the one-page warning, in English on one side and Arabic on the other.

Until the next announcement, it said, “In order to keep you safe, we hope that you can leave these places and do not reach them for any reason.”

Several messages delivered to Mr. Sandi’s downtown Baghdad office building in subsequent days kept pushing back the attack deadline. After the attack at the Canal Hotel, at least one new warning has been delivered, Mr. Sandi said.

The Rasheed, previously the only hotel where foreign businessmen and journalists were allowed to stay, is occupied by U.S. troops and those working for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

The conference center is an apparent reference to the main office of the U.S.-controlled Iraqi Media Network and is where Iraqis can go to meet with U.S. civilian and military representatives.

“I think there is much more to come,” Mr. Sandi said.

He said the first typed letter received at his Baghdad office was almost identical to letters received by various other offices in the city prior to the blast.

“The letter says to leave. The office called me and they said we had another one, saying the same thing, warning all nationals, foreign and American, saying everyone is a target,” said Mr. Sandi, who returned from Baghdad on Friday.

He said an American civilian in charge of security service at his Baghdad office building placed the facility under the highest state of alert and shared the warning with the U.S. authorities.

U.S. officials, contacted in Baghdad yesterday, said they were unaware of the messages cited by Mr. Sandi.

At the U.N. headquarters in New York, officials last night also said they were unaware of any specific threat sent to their Iraqi staff.

They acknowledged, however, that the organization increasingly was seen as an extension of the U.S.-led occupation authority.

The Palestine-Meridien and Ishtar-Sheraton hotels are located next to each other in central Baghdad and were filled with foreign camera crews and businessmen during the war.

Army intelligence officers repeatedly have cautioned Westerners away from the Palestine Hotel, in particular, deeming it a likely target of an attack.

Mr. Sandi said the first warning was received Aug. 14, with additional warnings sent in the next few days.

“We came under a code red alert and I didn’t sleep for three days and nights. Then they attacked the U.N. building.”

Hearing the explosion, but thinking it was a diversionary tactic, Mr. Sandi — who leads the Corporate Bank, a Washington merchant bank, and typically dresses in conservative business suits — grabbed an AK-47 automatic rifle and began running to lead his security guards to the front of his office building.

He later discovered that the U.N. headquarters had been attacked, killing Mr. Vieira de Mello — who he had met just days before — and 22 others.

“It was way too dangerous this time,” said Mr. Sandi in his Washington office yesterday.

His latest trip to his homeland was the third since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1.

“I am supposed to be going back next week, but I am very much thinking twice about it,” Mr. Sandi said.

One U.S. aid group, CARE U.S., said it had not received any such warnings.

Mr. Sandi has poured millions of dollars into investments in Iraq, including the creation of a security force of about 1,000 to provide protection to the Iraqi Department of Justice and several members of the U.S.-approved Iraqi Governing Council.

Mr. Sandi, who serves as an adviser to many Governing Council members, said the security situation in Iraq had deteriorated significantly since April and Iraqis’ frustration with the continued lack of power, water and health services was reaching a critical point.

Outside the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, thousands of Iraqi Shi’ites protested yesterday, saying the occupation force was lax on security and had done too little to stop a weekend of ethnic bloodshed in the north and the bombing of the house of an important Muslim Shi’ite cleric in the south.

The U.S. military reported yesterday that a soldier died of a nonhostile gunshot wound, bringing to 138 the number of troops killed since major combat was declared over. A total of 276 soldiers have died in combat or by accident since the war began March 19.

“I think the U.S. policy is in difficulty,” said Ken Katzman, a regional specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington and a former CIA analyst.

He said U.S. troop casualties and Iraqi intercommunal violence have prompted other nations to hedge on commitments to provide troops to the coalition.

“[The resistance] seems to be motivated by an apparent breakdown in control,” said Mr. Katzman, adding that additional attacks were likely.

“Everyone is calling for more military, but no one is focusing on the root of the problem, which is that people need services [and] human intelligence,” Mr. Sandi added. “You need a two-pronged approach: Security and services have to go hand in hand.”

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