October 27, 2003
Iraq Escalates with Red Cross Bombing - at least 34 Killed

A series of suicide bombings shook Baghdad early today, including an attack on the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross and blasts at four Iraqi police stations that punctuated two days of bloody violence in this capital city.

Iraq's police chief and deputy interior minister, Ahmad Ibrahim, said at a news conference that 34 people had been killed and 224 had been wounded in the attacks. He said 26 of the dead were civilians and 8 were police officers; 65 police officers and 159 civilians were wounded.

-NYTimes and Others

The explosions plunged the capital into chaos at the outset of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Ambulances raced through the streets and smoke rose from smoldering cars blown up in the blasts. Iraqi police officers dug through rubble to search for bodies.

The attacks took place between 8:30 and 10:15 a.m. local time, leading American and Iraqi officials to believe that they were part of a highly coordinated operation. There was a strong suspicion that foreigners were involved, and American and Iraqi officials referred to a "new element" being responsible for the bombings.

The officials differentiated between today's attacks and one on Sunday against a highly guarded hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was staying. The Sunday attack was attributed to loyalists to the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein.

An attack on a fifth police station was foiled when the attacker was shot and wounded. American and Iraqi officials said he was carrying Syrian identification and had identified himself as Syrian.

Another of the police station attacks succeeded, officials said, in part because the bomber was driving a police vehicle and wearing a police uniform.

The blast at the Red Cross headquarters occurred when an ambulance carrying a bomb exploded about 40 to 50 feet away.

The string of car bombings, all within about 45 minutes, was the bloodiest attack yet in the city of 5 million by insurgents targeting the American-led occupation and those perceived as working with it.

It also appeared to be a dramatic escalation in tactics, suggesting a level of organization that U.S. officials had doubted the resistance possessed. In past weeks, bombers have carried out heavy suicide bombings but in single strikes.

President Bush said U.S. progress in Iraq is making insurgents more ``desperate'' and fueling attacks.

The bombings came hours after clashes around Baghdad killed three U.S. soldiers overnight, and a day after insurgents hit a hotel full of U.S. occupation officials with a barrage of rockets, killing a U.S. colonel and wounding 18 other people. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel, but was unhurt.

``Of course we don't understand why somebody would attack the Red Cross,'' Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani said. ``The Red Cross has operated in this country since 1980, and we have not been involved in politics.''

In Geneva, Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal said the ICRC had disclosed in August that it had received warnings of a threat and had been reducing its staff since a Sri Lankan staffer was killed July 22 south of Baghdad.

``It's a big shock,'' Westphal said. ``It is obviously impossible to move onto a normal day's business, so we really have to step back and take stock.''

Posted by tstubbs at October 27, 2003 01:08 PM | Trackback
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