- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

BAGHDAD — Suicide attackers exploded twin car bombs on a busy commercial street just yards short of a hotel full of Americans yesterday, killing six Iraqi bystanders and wounding dozens, U.S. military and Iraqi officials said.

The Pentagon said gunfire from Iraqi guards and U.S. personnel aborted the drivers’ plan to hit the Baghdad Hotel, home to officials of the U.S.-led coalition authority here and reportedly some members of the Iraqi Governing Council.

At least one guard was reported among the dead; the two bombers also were presumed killed. One member of the 25-seat Governing Council, Mouwafak al-Rabii, told Al Jazeera satellite television he suffered a slight hand injury.

It was the seventh fatal vehicle bombing in Iraq since early August, attacks that have taken more than 140 lives. All have targeted institutions perceived as cooperating with the U.S. administrators of Iraq, and none has been reported solved.

The lunchtime attack sent frightened Iraqis fleeing up Saadoun Avenue, over broken window glass from banks, restaurants and shops and past the bloodied bodies of the injured. American helicopters and combat vehicles converged on the scene as black smoke from burning cars billowed over the center of the city.

The six victims and 32 injured reported at al-Kindi Hospital — four in critical condition — were all Iraqis, authorities said. The U.S. military said three Americans were slightly injured.

“We will work with the Iraqi police to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” Iraq’s U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said after the bombing.

But along Saadoun Avenue, feelings ran high against the Americans’ inability to stop the bombings. “Hey, Hey. This regime’s a failure,” a group chanted in Arabic at a group of U.S. soldiers as the fires raged.

Elsewhere in Iraq, two U.S. military police were slightly injured in a blast, apparently from a roadside bomb, just outside the main U.S. Army base in Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad.

Another soldier was wounded when his convoy came under small-arms and grenade attack 60 miles south of the northern city of Kirkuk.

In other developments:

• Hundreds of thousands of Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims concluded a weekend of religious celebration in the holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad. The festival was peaceful despite a fiery Friday sermon by hard-line cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who railed against the U.S. occupation and announced formation of his own Islamist “government.”

• Members of a visiting U.S. congressional delegation expressed American determination to stick it out in Iraq. “We are here to stay until these people are ready to take over,” said Rep. H. James Saxton, New Jersey Republican, referring to members of Iraqi security forces with whom the delegation met.

• Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Ankara that Turkish soldiers would be a guarantee of peace in Iraq even though the Governing Council said they would not be welcome. Pakistan said it would not offer troops unless their presence was legitimized by a U.N. resolution or an Iraqi request for help.

The heavily guarded Baghdad Hotel sits at the foot of a short side street running from Saadoun Avenue. A tall wall of concrete slabs guards the intersection where the street meets the avenue.

Mr. Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority said some of its staff and contractors live in the hotel, and for weeks it was rumored to be home to CIA staff, although the U.S. intelligence agency denied yesterday it was a headquarters.

Witnesses said two cars sped toward the intersection, one going up the wrong lane on Saadoun, a two-way road, and veered behind the barrier to head toward the hotel.

Sabah Ghulam, 37, said one of the cars came at him as he rode in an automobile past the barrier. “The car was in front of us, a 1990 Toyota Corolla,” he said. “He suddenly turned in toward the hotel. … A policeman shot at him four times, and then there was the explosion.”

In Washington, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cynthia Scott-Johnson said both vehicles were fired on by Iraqi guards and by Americans.

“Both vehicles then detonated, wounding three U.S. personnel slightly,” she said. She didn’t specify whether the Americans were military or civilian; at least one civilian gunman who looked American was seen at the scene.

Lt. Col. George Krivo, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said two cars came at high speed toward the checkpoints, but it was unclear whether both contained explosives.

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