Assault on Hotel Kills 16 in Baghdad

By Jonathan Finer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

BAGHDAD, Oct. 24 -- Like a fiery battering ram, the explosives-filled car blasted the concrete wall surrounding the Palestine Hotel, knocking down a large section about 5:30 p.m. Monday and giving insurgent attackers the opening they needed.

Minutes later, into the breach drove a cement truck refitted as a suicide vehicle. A surveillance camera caught it advancing toward the hotel, used by many foreign journalists and contractors. The way blocked, the driver reversed, apparently looking for another route, before the truck too detonated in an enormous fireball.

The attack was one of the most complex and coordinated that insurgents have launched in Baghdad. Using rockets, small-arms fire and three suicide bombs, they killed at least 16 people and wounded 22, according to government officials, police and witnesses.

The truck blast savaged the exterior of the hotel and some of its rooms, but no one inside was killed, apparently because the truck failed to get close enough.

The attack ended a period of relative calm in Baghdad that began in the days before Iraq's Oct. 15 constitutional referendum. The bombs exploded as restaurants nearby were packed with patrons gathered to break the daily fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Police fired shots into the air to enforce a cordon around the area, while ambulances and SUVs from private security companies rushed victims to the neighborhood's Ibn-Nafees Hospital.

Early reports suggested that most of the casualties were Iraqi civilians who were eating in restaurants outside the barrier walls or walking in the streets.

Saleh Mehdi, 40, a laborer who was with a friend at the Chicken Inn restaurant across the street from the complex, said patrons were knocked to the ground. "There was broken glass and shrapnel, and all of the furniture was turned over," he said. "I ran out into the street to escape, and then the second explosion happened. The whole area turned into a battlefield."

Three staff members from Associated Press Television News were wounded, two with head injuries, though none was seriously hurt, according to Rob Celliers, a senior producer. A total of six people inside the compound were wounded, the Associated Press reported.

Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie, said that five to 10 men had carried out the attack and that journalists were the target.

"This was an attempt to break into the Palestine Hotel and occupy it to take Arab and foreign journalists hostage. Regretfully, this terrorist attack resulted in many civilian casualties," he told the al-Arabiya television network.

Rubaie praised Iraqi police and security companies for helping to thwart the attack.

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