- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

BAGHDAD — Terrorists hit multiple targets including hotels, American soldiers and Iraqi employees of the U.S.-led coalition yesterday as a nervous nation braced for still more attacks to mark the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion.

At least 10 persons died violently across the country.

Four of the victims were killed when a car bomb exploded at the Mirbad Hotel in the southern city of Basra, the British military said. At least 15 persons were wounded, including three seriously, according to hospital officials.

The Associated Press quoted police Lt. Col. Ali Kazem in Basra as saying that passers-by captured and fatally stabbed a man who was believed to be one of the bombers. Two others seen getting out of the vehicle that contained the bomb were arrested after being caught by witnesses.

In Baghdad last night, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades, hitting the upper floors of at least two more hotels in what looked like an attempt to intimidate foreign civilians.

A witness said he saw a car cross through an intersection about 100 yards from one of the hotels, followed by what looked like two rocket-propelled grenades being launched.

“It was like two red darts going whoosh through the air,” said Amjad Hamed, 30, who works as a translator for Western visitors. “Then I heard two explosions. Friends later told me that shells had hit the upper floors of two hotels, the Rimal and the Burj al-Hayat.

A third hotel, the Cedar, was also reported to have been hit. There were no reports of injuries or major damage.

The attacks came one day after a suicide bomber hit a hotel in central Baghdad. Coalition Provisional Authority officials yesterday lowered the toll in that bombing to seven killed compared with the 27 dead reported Wednesday.

Earlier yesterday, insurgents opened fire on a meeting of U.S. military officials and local leaders in Fallujah, sparking a battle in which at least two Iraqis died and 17 Americans were wounded.

The Americans were hit with mortar rounds launched from more than a mile away, with an immediate follow-up attack with grenades and small-arms fire.

Near Baquba, another stronghold of Saddam loyalists, gunmen attacked a minibus carrying employees of an American-funded television and radio network, killing three and wounding nine, police said.

Col. Jeffrey Smith of the 82nd Airborne Division said the sophistication of the attack in Fallujah indicated that the operation had been carried out with advance knowledge.

“They knew we were coming down there,” said Col. Smith, the military commander for the region that includes Fallujah. “This had to be deliberately planned.”

The Washington Times has reported previously that CPA officials suspect that insurgents have managed to penetrate their organization and are sending word of planned meetings to colleagues outside.

Col. Smith said the meeting was held to introduce local leaders to Marine Col. John Tookan, who will take over the command tomorrow.

“The meeting was going very, very, well. We were about to wrap things up when the first mortar round came in,” Col. Smith said.

At least two Iraqis, a teenage boy and a police officer, were killed. Soldiers said the boy was known to soldiers and would often bring them lunch from nearby restaurants.

Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad, is a stronghold of Saddam loyalists and the scene of many battles with American troops in the past year.

In Baghdad, American troops killed an Iraqi cameraman working for the Dubai-based satellite news channel Al Arabiya. A correspondent also was wounded.

The news crew was driving in central Baghdad when another car sped toward a U.S. checkpoint. They said U.S. troops then opened fire on both cars.

“I stopped in front of the checkpoint and then I saw another car coming fast toward it and I thought it was going to explode,” Ahmed Abdul Amiya, driver of the Al Arabiya car, told Reuters news agency.

Special correspondent Charles Crain in Fallujah contributed to this report.

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