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14 Die on a Day of Bloodshed in Iraq

Suicide bombers kill eight at a police station. Three U.S. soldiers and a Spanish envoy also die.

October 10, 2003|Edmund Sanders, Tyler Marshall and Laura King | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — Iraq's capital erupted in violence again Thursday when suicide bombers crashed an explosives-laden sedan into a police station in the city's worst slum, killing eight other people, just after a Spanish diplomat was chased down and shot in the head outside his home.

Late in the day, two U.S. soldiers on routine patrol with the 1st Armored Division were killed and four were wounded in an attack in the same neighborhood where the bombing occurred, a military spokeswoman said today. Thursday morning, a soldier with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division was killed in a rocket-propelled-grenade attack near Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad.

Fourteen people, including two bombers, died in the four attacks, making it the deadliest day in Iraq since August. The bombing in Sadr City threatened to reignite tensions in its Shiite Muslim community, which once cheered on the U.S. forces who ousted Saddam Hussein but has grown increasingly impatient with the occupation.

Attacks on Americans have been rare in Sadr City -- formerly known as Saddam City -- a heavily Shiite area whose people had largely heeded calls by leading clerics to avoid violence against U.S. troops.

No one claimed responsibility for the Baghdad attacks, which came on the six-month anniversary of Hussein's ouster, but officials said the suicide bombing and the attack on the envoy appeared to be directed at people cooperating with U.S. forces.

Iraqi police, who have been hired and trained by American troops, have repeatedly been the target of attacks, including a car bombing at a police station last month. Spain supported the U.S.-led invasion and has about 1,300 troops in the country.

The slain Spanish diplomat, Jose Antonio Bernal Gomez, 31, was officially listed as the embassy's information attache, but according to those who knew him, he served as a military intelligence officer and the liaison between the embassy and the coalition forces.

Witnesses said three assassins -- including one dressed as a Muslim cleric -- attacked Bernal in his home, chased him down the street and shot him in the back of the head.

Despite the bloodshed, the head of the U.S.-led occupation, L. Paul Bremer III, gave a spirited defense of his progress in restoring order to Iraq.

"Six months ago, the coalition forces liberated Baghdad, [and] most of what's happened since has been good," Bremer told reporters. "We have accomplished a lot, but there is much work still to do."

Three Iraqi police officers and five civilians were killed in the 8:45 a.m. attack at the Sadr City police station, according to Capt. Sean Kirley of the Army's 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. The driver of the car and a passenger were also killed, witnesses said.

Hospitals reported treating at least 65 injured people, including several construction workers who were renovating the station.

Witnesses and officials said that a white or blue Oldsmobile crashed through the gates of the station and that those inside the car exchanged fire with guards who tried to stop the vehicle. The car circled the parking lot and stopped about 15 yards from the building.

"The guards rushed over to open the car door, and the bomb exploded," said Saad Zwayl, an emergency police officer who was standing nearby.

The blast -- which echoed throughout the capital -- left a crater in the ground 10 feet long and 4 feet deep and shattered windshields of nearby police cars in the scruffy neighborhood, which was known as Saddam City during Hussein's rule.

"I heard the explosion, and then I lost consciousness," said Mohammed Hashim, 20, a rookie police officer who was hit in the chest with shrapnel. "I just saw flame."

He and dozens of other officers were collecting their salaries when the car sped by, hitting two officers in its path.

The smell of blood hung over the dingy halls of Baghdad's Khadisiyeh Hospital, where a dozen of the injured, mostly police officers, lay on narrow cots, still in their blue uniforms. One man cried out continuously while doctors treated his wounded legs.

At Al Kindi Hospital, a somber procession of taxis arrived with coffins tied to their roofs to transport the dead and their distraught families.

Nearby at the Neurological Hospital, a 35-year-old officer remained in critical condition after being hit in the head with shrapnel, suffering severe brain damage, according to Dr. Zuhair Abbass.

Outside the police station, hundreds of demonstrators and frantic relatives threatened to riot, pressing against a barrier of razor wire set up by U.S. and Iraqi officers to secure the station. At times, ambulances and emergency vehicles were unable to pass through the mob.

U.S. soldiers fired warning shots and pushed demonstrators back with the sides of their rifles. Protesters threw rocks and shouted anti-American slogans.

One Iraqi police officer in the crowd was stabbed in the right arm, and several journalists were harassed.

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