- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

BAGHDAD — Rockets struck a Baghdad hotel housing foreign contractors and journalists late yesterday, drawing return fire and underscoring the precarious security situation in the heart of the Iraqi capital. Outside Baghdad, roadside bombings killed two American soldiers.

Early today, U.S. aircraft attacked what the U.S. command said was a hide-out of terror mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi in Fallujah. The military said that “credible intelligence sources” reported terrorist leaders were meeting there.

A Fallujah doctor said the attack killed 10 persons, including a groom on his wedding night, and wounded the bride and 16 others. Residents reported several other strong explosions in the insurgent stronghold through the night.

The latest attacks came as an aide to radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr offered to disarm his militia, Mahdi’s Army, in a move that could bring an end to weeks of fighting in Baghdad’s Shi’ite district of Sadr City. The government cautiously welcomed the offer and suggested that other militant groups also lay down their arms.

The Katyusha rockets were fired from the back of a vehicle at the Baghdad hotel, Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said. There were no casualties.

The blasts set a palm tree afire as tracer bullets streaked across the darkened sky. Several shaken Westerners emerged from the hotel, some covering their mouths with cloths, as workers swept up the broken glass. A huge crack was seen in the lobby wall.

A security guard speaking on the condition of anonymity said private security guards deployed on the roofs in the compound fired at the pickup truck, destroying it.

The U.S. Army rolled in reinforcements, including Bradley fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers and Humvees, to take up positions at the hotels.

The hotels are across the Tigris River from the U.S. Embassy compound in the heavily guarded green zone, where U.S. authorities earlier raised a security alert after an improvised bomb was found in front of a restaurant there.

The warning to Americans and Iraqi officials in the green zone came after the discovery on Tuesday of an explosive device at the Green Zone Cafe, a popular hangout for Westerners living and working in the compound, which houses U.S. and Iraqi government offices. A U.S. military ordnance detachment safely disarmed it, U.S. officials said.

An explosion shook the green zone yesterday afternoon, and smoke rose from inside the compound. The U.S. military had no immediate information on the incident. Terrorists regularly fire at the compound.

Americans living and working in the zone were told to travel in groups and avoid certain areas and nonessential travel.

One U.S. soldier from the 13th Corps Support Command died when a bomb exploded near his convoy on late Wednesday outside the terrorist stronghold of Fallujah, the command said. Two other soldiers were wounded.

A 1st Infantry Division soldier was killed and an Iraqi interpreter wounded when terrorist attacked a patrol with a roadside bomb near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the command reported.

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