- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

BAGHDAD — Suicide car bombers ushered in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan yesterday with attacks at three police stations and the local Red Cross headquarters, killing at least 34 persons, including an American soldier and eight Iraqi policemen.

At least 224 persons were wounded in the deadliest one-day wave of targeted killings since the city’s capture by coalition troops, Iraqi authorities said.

An attempt on a fourth police station failed, and the would-be bomber was captured, raising hopes that he will identify under interrogation those responsible.

On the streets and in buildings close to where the explosions occurred, Iraqi citizens revealed shame, depression and anger at the bombing spree and condemned the perpetrators.

At each scene, American soldiers barked orders and unrolled reels of barbed wire as ambulances screeched past crowds, ferrying victims to the city’s hospitals.

The blasts occurred within 45 minutes, sending birds aflutter and filling the air with the acrid smoke from burning cars.

The explosion at the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross killed two unarmed guards and 10 passers-by. It also sent a chill through the agency and other private relief organizations seeking to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Nada Doumani, the ICRC’s Baghdad spokeswoman, expressed “shock and dismay” that anyone could target the assiduously neutral organization, which is working to supply water-treatment facilities, provide emergency aid and visit coalition-held prisoners of war.

Iraqi guards said they saw a panel van bearing the markings of the Red Crescent Society — the Muslim counterpart of the Red Cross — being driven at high speed into the street in front of the ICRC’s four-story building.

The van came to a halt when challenged by Iraqi gunfire, and the bomber pressed a trigger to ignite the payload. A hospital and a primary school, whose students had just gone inside the classrooms, were hit.

U.S. soldiers pulled the charred remains of the bomber out of the vehicle within minutes. They placed the blackened pile, identifiable as human only by the general shape, onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.

One of the deadliest attacks occurred in southern Baghdad, where a suicide bomber driving a commandeered police car managed to get into the courtyard of al-Baya’a police station before detonating his charge, according to police Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim, the deputy interior minister.

That explosion killed 15 Iraqis and one U.S. soldier, part of a contingent working with the Iraqi police at the station. Six American troops were wounded.

Gen. Ibrahim said 65 Iraqi policemen were wounded in the attacks.

He blamed foreign insurgents, but senior U.S. generals previously had said that the numbers of foreigners infiltrating as far as the capital remained small.

The only surviving attacker, whose Landcruiser had been carrying 17 boxes of explosives, fled when the vehicle became trapped in zigzag barriers outside a police station. He suffered gunshots in the chest and legs.

He was taken to a hospital, where U.S. and Iraqi intelligence and security officials tried unsuccessfully to question him during treatment, two doctors said in an interview.

The doctors said the man gave his name and said he was from Yemen, the birthplace of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. An American spokesman said the man had been carrying Syrian identity papers, but added that they could have been forged.

Brig. Gen. Mark Hertlin of the 1st Armored Division, which controls Baghdad, said the attacks were the “last desperate acts of men whose time is ending.”

The general also theorized that many of the attacks on the coalition and its allies were planned in meetings after Friday mosque prayers, noting an increase in strikes on Sundays and Mondays. At least 10 rockets were fired Sunday into Al Rasheed Hotel, where top coalition officials reside.

Yet the terrifying effect of the wave of bombings on Iraqis was obvious.

“The people are afraid to go anywhere,” said Dr. Ali Al Safaji, 28, as workers swept broken glass out of his operating theater at the private hospital Two Rivers, hundreds of yards from the site of one of the blasts.

“People said before the war, at least we’ll get security. But there is no security. I never want Saddam back, and I don’t want the Americans to leave now. But if I have to choose between security and democracy, I’ll choose security.”

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