- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Guerrillas sent more than a dozen rockets and mortar rounds slamming into Baghdad on Christmas Day, hitting hotels, embassies and the vicinity of the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq.

They also directed their rage at a U.S. military camp in the town of Baquba, 40 miles north of the capital. They lobbed two mortar bombs into it after nightfall and wounded eight soldiers, two seriously, a U.S. officer said.

Yesterday’s violence in the Iraqi capital caused scant injury or damage, and contrasted with attacks a day earlier, which were the widest in scale since the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. military said an American soldier had been killed by a roadside bomb in the capital on Wednesday, raising the death toll to four in Christmas Eve attacks.

Yesterday, two hotels used by Westerners and an Iraqi apartment block nearby were struck by rockets and mortar shells. Guerrillas fired rockets that hit the outside wall of the Iranian Embassy, the Turkish Embassy and a residential building next to the German Embassy.

A rocket missed the Interior Ministry and landed in a nearby street, witnesses said. Police said U.S. troops defused a rocket aimed at the Finance Ministry in another neighborhood.

The strikes on prominent targets had more symbolic than military impact. Two civilians — a woman and her daughter sleeping in an apartment — were injured in the attacks, which took place around sunrise, but damage was limited.

Yesterday’s strikes showed how easily small bands of rebels could operate under cover of night in the city center, and then slip away. At the same time, the hit-and-run operations revealed the inability of rebels to confront the superior firepower of U.S. soldiers.

They also inflicted far less damage than attacks by suicide bombers in recent months that killed dozens of people at embassies, police stations and the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

U.S. forces using aircraft and artillery pounded suspected guerrilla hide-outs in the outskirts of Baghdad for the third consecutive night as part of Operation Iron Grip, aimed at flushing guerrillas from the capital.

The announcement of the killing of the American soldier on Wednesday brought to 206 the number of U.S. military deaths from hostile fire since Washington announced the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.

The Bush administration blames attacks on Saddam supporters and foreign Islamist militants. Officials had warned that insurgents would launch fierce attacks during the Christmas season, and yesterday’s explosions added to the gloom surrounding holiday celebrations.

Baghdad churches did not hold traditional midnight Mass because of lack of security, clerics said, but Iraqi Catholics attended Mass yesterday morning at churches in the capital.

The elevator area between the eighth and ninth floors of the Ishtar Sheraton Hotel was struck in yesterday’s rocket and mortar strikes. Debris and shattered glass littered the hotel lobby, but an employee said no casualties were reported.

“This is a regular day for us,” said U.S. 1st Lt. Kurt Muniz, who led several soldiers on a foot patrol near the hotel. He said the attackers left leaflets urging staff at the Ishtar Sheraton to stop working at the hotel and demanding that U.S. forces leave Iraq.

Another rocket hit the Bourj al-Hayat Hotel, also used by Americans. No one was hurt there, either.

A U.S. military spokesman said three or four rockets landed in the vicinity of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority complex in city center on the west bank of the Tigris.

Such targets are now more heavily defended and harder to hit. There are also fewer “soft” targets, with the United Nations pulling out foreign staffers and many foreign aid workers also departing because of security concerns.


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