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FBI to Lead Inquiry Into Baghdad Embassy Attack

At the request of the Iraqi Governing Council, the U.S. will head the investigation. The panel's president warns of similar strikes.

August 09, 2003|Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — As investigators combed the site of the deadly car bombing at the Jordanian Embassy here Friday, the head of the U.S.-led occupation confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would lead the inquiry into the attack.

The president of the Iraqi Governing Council, meanwhile, warned that the attack might be the first in a wave of terrorist strikes against nations that cooperate with the interim Iraqi government and the American-led occupation administration.

No one claimed responsibility for Thursday's explosion, which killed at least 17 people and injured three times that number. Iraqi police said they had no leads as to who was behind the attack but that they believed the bomb had been left in a parked vehicle.

The bombing and initial investigation underscored the difficulties facing the U.S.-led occupation and the nascent Iraqi government as they attempted to delineate responsibility for creating a safe environment in the capital.

The Governing Council has pressed the Americans to allow Iraqi police to assume more security duties, and U.S. officials had insisted Friday that the police were taking the lead in the bombing inquiry. U.S. officials also said Iraqis were responsible for protecting the city's 35 foreign missions, although their capacity to do so remains questionable. American forces were on guard at the Jordanian compound Friday.

But this morning, L. Paul Bremer III, the American civilian administrator in Iraq, said U.S. investigators would take charge.

"At the request of the Ministry of Interior, the FBI will give assistance by leading the investigation," Bremer said in a statement.

Based upon the location of the blast, sources said it appeared that a minivan packed with powerful explosives was parked next to a wall surrounding the embassy's courtyard. Had it been a suicide mission, one Iraqi investigator said, the driver could have easily positioned the car much closer to the embassy building, causing more damage and casualties.

"It was not a suicide bomber," said the investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity. "You could tell this by the way the car was parked."

The force of the explosion blew the vehicle onto the roof of an adjacent house, where it remained Friday, sources said.

Investigators were collecting chemical samples to determine what types of explosives were used. "I can tell you from the quality of explosives that this was a highly orchestrated terrorist attack," the investigator said.

The embassy and surrounding area remained closed to the public Friday as U.S., Iraqi and Jordanian officials sorted through debris. Embassy staffers removed files and furniture. Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers said FBI agents were already at the site.

In contrast to the chaos that erupted after Thursday's blast, the atmosphere in front of the embassy was somber. Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division stood watch as friends and relatives of the victims continued the gruesome task of collecting and burying body parts that had been scattered across a field in front of the complex.

Ibrahim Jafari, who holds the rotating presidency of the 25-member Governing Council, said Iraqi police would aggressively investigate the crime, which he said he believes was carried out by supporters of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

"We don't have exact information about the criminal person who did this, but they are definitely connected to Saddam Hussein," said Jafari, a member of the Islamic Dawa Party.

Jafari warned that similar attacks might be attempted at other embassies. "Now they are probably going to extend their circle of targets to involve many countries closely cooperating with Iraq," he said.

Iyad Allawi, another member of the Governing Council, who heads the panel's security committee, said Friday that investigators were making progress. "Luckily, some clues about the crime were left behind, and we believe that within a few days [the investigation] will produce results toward identifying the attackers," Allawi told Reuters news agency.

Before Bremer's announcement, U.S. occupation officials tried to play down their involvement in the investigation, characterizing their role as one of support to the Iraqi police department, which is still operating under American supervision.

"We are keen that the Iraqis take on more responsibility," an official at the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority said Friday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

But it remains unclear whether the Iraqi police have the training, expertise and authority to supervise the investigation of a terrorist strike, particularly compared with the resources of the United States. The police have just begun to have a presence on the streets and are starting to learn Western approaches to investigating crime.

Jafari stressed that U.S. forces should allow Iraqis to take charge of the inquiry and other security issues.

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