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Baghdad Embassy Car Bombing Kills 12

A powerful explosion targets Jordan's mission to Iraq, raising the specter of attacks becoming more lethal. Four dozen are hurt.

August 08, 2003|Chris Kraul and Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — A powerful car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian Embassy here Thursday morning, killing at least 12 people and wounding 48 others in the first major attack targeting foreign civilians in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Most of the casualties, however, were Iraqis.

No one claimed responsibility for the blast, which shattered windows hundreds of feet away and incinerated five nearby vehicles. But initial speculation on the assailants ranged from Hussein loyalists angry at Jordan for its support of the United States to -- more ominously -- foreign or Al Qaeda-style operatives.

The car bombing raised the specter that future attacks on either civilian targets or U.S. forces could be far more lethal than the shootings, rocket-propelled-grenade attacks and land-mine blasts that have targeted U.S. troops and Iraqis who work with the Americans.

The explosion, which occurred about 11 a.m. when the embassy is usually busy with people applying for visas and conducting other business, demolished a wall in front of the two-story sandstone complex.

"It was a very terrible scene. There was smoke, fire, the smell of burning gunpowder and blood," said Hayawi Jabar, a paramedic who arrived at the embassy just minutes after the blast.

Safa Hussein, 38, an ambulance driver who made 12 trips to the scene, said he was driving near the embassy when he heard an explosion, and then another.

"It was a car that exploded from the first blast," he said. "I saw it exploding and burning in front of me. We pulled four people out of the car -- they were completely burned. You could not see their faces.

"I was a soldier for 12 years, I fought in the Iran-Iraq war, and I worked as an ambulance driver in this last war. And I never saw anything as bad on the battlefield as I saw today."

Although doctors said the dead and wounded were predominantly Iraqis, a few Jordanians were injured as well as Arabs from other countries who were in the Al Zuhoor neighborhood on the west bank of the Tigris River, home to many embassies. A handful of women and four children were among the injured, according to doctors at the Pediatric Hospital, where all of the injured were initially taken. Many patients were later transferred to specialty hospitals.

Immediately after the blast, U.S. troops in tanks and Humvees, as well as Iraqi police, descended on the scene. Bystanders said they tried to rush into the building to assist the wounded but were driven back by a Jordanian Embassy guard who opened fire, believing they were about to loot the building.

"I went in to help the people, but the Jordanian guard pulled his gun," said Ali Hassan, 22.

At least two of the ambulances had bullet holes where they had been shot by Jordanian guards, according to their drivers.

Large crowds of Iraqis gathered at the embassy and blamed the United States for the attack. A rumor circulated that a U.S. helicopter had fired at the embassy with a missile, although other witnesses said the helicopters arrived after the explosion.

U.S. military officials said the vehicle carrying the explosives was an SUV but offered no information on who the driver and possible passengers were or whether they escaped or were killed in the bombing.

Car bombings have been nearly nonexistent in postwar attacks in Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell decried the bombing and said it only bolstered American resolve "to unite the world in this campaign against terrorism."

Jordanian Information Minister Nabil Sharif echoed him, saying, "This criminal act will only boost our determination to continue our support for the brotherly Iraqi people."

Although U.S. officials in Baghdad declined to speculate on who was behind the strike or on a possible motive for the attack, they have warned repeatedly that foreign fighters are in Iraq and that they could launch such assaults.

"What this tells us is that we have some professional terrorists operating here," said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq.

Some Iraqis speculated that supporters of Saddam Hussein were responsible for the bombing and that they targeted Jordan because of its quiet backing of the U.S.-led military campaign that toppled the Iraqi dictator.

Others on the scene said the attack might have been devised by Hussein's opponents furious at Jordan for granting asylum to two daughters of the deposed leader last week.

"We are completely angry with that news that Jordan allowed them to stay. Let the members of the criminal Saddam Hussein family be hunted and tracked down to the ends of the Earth," said an Iraqi bystander who identified himself only as Mr. Termiy.

A more frightening scenario, however, is that the bombing is not an isolated incident but the work of Al Qaeda-style operatives, either working on their own or with anti-American Iraqis.

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