- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

BAGHDAD — A car bomb ripped through a crowded restaurant hosting a New Year’s Eve party in the Iraqi capital, killing five Iraqis and injuring 35 others, including at least one American and two Britons.

The attack, identified by witnesses as a car bomb, came amid heightened security in Baghdad over the holiday as military officials expected insurgent attacks. There were two other explosions earlier yesterday near U.S. military convoys in the capital — one a car bomb, the other a bomb hidden in bushes outside another restaurant.

After the evening explosion, sirens wailed and helicopters buzzed overhead as ambulances and U.S. soldiers converged on the Nabil restaurant, a popular spot with foreigners that had advertised a New Year’s Eve party with live music and belly-dancing.

Several cars outside the restaurant were wrecked and in flames. Gunfire was heard after the explosion, which apparently left a large crater on a side street near the building.

“There was an explosion. The glass came flying. Everything else blew up. People were blown apart,” said Basam Sarhan, a 25-year-old baker. He had been working in the kitchen at the back of the restaurant, near where the bomb hit.

Nabil Hanna, owner of the restaurant, said 50 persons had booked for the party, including about a dozen foreigners. The Los Angeles Times said three of its reporters and four local staff members suffered apparently minor injuries. The reporters were Chris Kraul, Tracy Wilkinson and Ann Simmons.

One witness, Ahmed Hassanain, said a white Toyota Corolla drove by the area five or six times before the bombing. The last time it passed, he said, the guard at the restaurant shot at it. It drove away. Two minutes later, there was an explosion. He said he didn’t know if it was the Corolla that blew up.

“These people are terrorists,” Mr. Hassanain said. “Nobody here supports them.”

U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police had stepped up security in Baghdad yesterday, erecting more razor wire and checkpoints in key areas. Military officials have reported the threat of attacks by insurgents over the holiday period.

Earlier, a car bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy passed on a Baghdad street full of shops, destroying a Humvee, Iraqi police Sgt. Thabet Talib said. An 8-year-old Iraqi boy was killed and 21 others were wounded, including five U.S. soldiers and five Iraqi civil defense personnel, authorities said.

Later in the evening, a bomb hidden in shrubs outside a separate restaurant in Baghdad exploded as a U.S. military convoy passed, wounding three American soldiers and three Iraqi civilians.

In the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, two persons were killed when gunfire erupted as hundreds of Iraqis marched in protest over fears of Kurdish domination.

In other developments, a South Korean was killed in a gunbattle between Romanian soldiers and Iraqi insurgents near the southern city of Basra, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported yesterday. There was no immediate confirmation of the report or whether the victim was a soldier or a civilian.

A U.S. soldier was killed and a second wounded in the accidental discharge of a weapon Tuesday night in the town of Tanf on the Syrian border, the military said.


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