- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded during morning rush hour in Baghdad’s crowded Tahrir Square yesterday, killing at least 12 persons, including three General Electric workers and two of their bodyguards, while provoking cheers from young Iraqis.

At least 60 persons, almost all of them Iraqis, were injured in the bombing, which was directed at a convoy of contractors working to restore Baghdad’s electricity system. It was the second such attack in as many days and the 17th this month.

The 8 a.m. blast collapsed the front wall of a nearby hotel, and shattered a restaurant and small shops on the bustling commercial corridor, leaving several vehicles in flames.

Leaders of the newly appointed Iraqi government were quick to condemn the bombing, but witnesses, while agitated by the carnage among Iraqi bystanders, refused to criticize the insurgents for mounting the attack in a crowded square.

“He had to do it in the city,” said a man in his early 50s. “We cannot take [the Americans] to an open area to do it.”

A large crowd of men and boys, drawn to the square by the explosion, swarmed as close to the wrecked vehicles as they could, gawking at the charred bodies in the twisted cars.

Bystanders looted the personal belongings of the victims and one held up a British passport he had retrieved. Others chanted, “Down with the U.S.A.” About 20 youths danced around a charred body, the Associated Press reported.

As Iraqi police clustered defensively at the far end of the square, crowds looted a liquor store whose security grill had been blown apart and hurled cans of beer onto the burning cars. The cans exploded, sending streams of white steam into the air to the cheers of the crowd.

Coalition military officials said the bomb destroyed eight vehicles, including three sport utility vehicles in the contractor convoy and a car that contained the bomb. Scores of pedestrians and shoppers were injured by flying shrapnel or falling debris.

The dead included one American, two Britons and a Frenchman. Authorities said the three SUVs had been carrying 10 electrical contractors, all of whom were injured or killed in the blast.

The dead included three employees of Granite Services Inc., a wholly owned Tampa, Fla.-based subsidiary of General Electric, and two security contractors employed by Olive Security of London, the AP reported.

“We deplore this terrorist act and vow to bring these criminals to justice as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told reporters after the attack. He said that the foreigners were in Baghdad to help rebuild power plants, but offered no specifics.

He blamed the bombing on accused Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi — the man believed responsible for the decapitation of American hostage Nicholas Berg — but did not say why he blamed him.

Shortly after the blast, Iraqis loaded the injured into cars and truckbeds to take them to nearby hospitals. Many of the injured appeared to be missing limbs or suffering from burns and severe internal damage, with clothing torn away and blood pooling under pale skin.

The scene was reminiscent of attacks on Westerners in Fallujah, where the killing and mutilation of four American contractors in March prompted a three-week battle between U.S. Marines and insurgents.

Also yesterday, U.S. forces removed eight busloads of prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison in an attempt to reduce the numbers of detainees before the June 30 turnover of power to the interim Iraqi government.

The prison has been at the heart of an international scandal concerning mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. reservists.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday that deposed president Saddam Hussein should be formally charged with a crime if he is to be kept in detention after June 30.

“Saddam Hussein, as far as we understand today, is a POW, prisoner of war, protected by the third Geneva Convention as all prisoners of war are,” chief spokeswoman Antonella Notari said.

“In theory, when a war ends and when an occupation ends, the detaining force has to release prisoners of war or civilian detainees if there are no reasons for holding them.”

Mr. Allawi told Al Jazeera television yesterday that Iraqi officials expected to take authority over Saddam and all other detainees once sovereignty is restored.

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