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4 Suicide Bombings Kill 35 in Baghdad

It's the bloodiest day in the capital since the end of major fighting. The attacks at the start of Ramadan target police stations, the Red Cross.

October 28, 2003|Alissa J. Rubin and David Lamb | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — A series of suicide bombings killed at least 35 people, including three children, and injured at least 224 in Baghdad on Monday, turning the beginning of the Ramadan holy month into the capital's bloodiest day since major fighting was declared over in May.

In just 45 minutes at the beginning of the workday, attackers created pockets of devastation, damaging houses, destroying shops and incinerating cars. The swiftness and ferocity of the coordinated assaults traumatized this city, which has been reeling from violence and a shortage of such basics as electricity since the occupation began.

The overwhelming majority of the casualties were Iraqi, though at least one American soldier was killed when the bombers targeted the International Committee of the Red Cross and three Iraqi police stations. At least eight Iraqi policemen were killed along with 26 civilians.

Officials said they didn't know if the four dead bombers had been included in the death toll.

A fifth suicide bomber who approached another police station was unable to detonate his loaded car before being shot by Iraqi policemen. The officers who caught the bomber said they believed he was Syrian because he had a Syrian passport in his pocket and cursed them in the neighboring Arab nation's dialect.

"The death toll today has been incredible. The wounded toll is very high. But they both would have been higher if not for the heroics of the Iraqi police," Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, assistant to the commander in charge of Baghdad security, said of the revamped security force.

As has been the case for months of guerrilla-style attacks across the country, there were conflicting theories about whom to blame for the carnage. American officials here initially accused foreign terrorists, but Pentagon officials in Washington suggested Baathists still loyal to the ousted regime of former President Saddam Hussein were the culprits.

At the White House, President Bush told reporters that the attacks would not force the U.S. to leave Iraq. He insisted that the increasing violence was caused by insurgents who were becoming "desperate" as the U.S. and its allies made progress in stabilizing and rebuilding the country.

With Iraq's civil institutions so weak, the impact of Monday's attacks could fall especially hard on Iraqis who have come to rely on the Red Cross and other aid organizations to provide clean water, medicine, food and sanitation. The Red Cross announced it was cutting back its operations and withdrawing its foreign workers, leaving 800 Iraqi workers to continue relief efforts.

Other aid agencies have reduced their presence, and some groups are so anxious about the growing violence that they won't discuss staffing for fear of creating targets.

CARE International, another large nongovernmental aid organization, has maintained a handful of international staff members and dozens of Iraqi employees in the country. But because of the bombings, carjackings and thefts from warehouses, it is constantly reassessing the security situation.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the bombing of the Red Cross a "crime against humanity." U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said, "The ICRC is a universally respected humanitarian organization. Its neutrality and impartiality are the mainstays of its operations. Today's attack on it is a crime against humanity."

The U.N. has withdrawn all but about 30 of its international staff members since the Aug. 19 suicide bombing of its Baghdad headquarters, which killed 22 people.

Since the Jordanian Embassy here was attacked in early August, suicide car bombs have claimed the lives of 96 people and wounded nearly 500 in 11 incidents. The single deadliest bombing, at a mosque in the holy city of Najaf, involved a car packed with explosives but was not carried out by a suicide bomber. About 120 people were killed in that blast.

On Monday, hospital emergency rooms all over this city of 5 million were overwhelmed with the wounded, distraught relatives paced the edge of bomb sites in search of loved ones last seen setting off for work, and the American military rapidly cordoned off every site as investigators searched for evidence.

The bombings, which came on the day when many Iraqis began the holy month of Ramadan, followed a rocket attack Sunday on the Rashid Hotel, home to many American officials and military personnel in Baghdad. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was in the hotel during the Sunday attack, which killed Lt. Col. Charles H. Beuhring, 40, of Fayetteville, N.C.

The attack on the Rashid was believed to have been the work of members of Hussein's former regime, while Monday's assaults were highly organized and involved suicide bombers -- usually the markings of Al Qaeda or a group such as Ansar al Islam, which the U.S. says is affiliated with the terrorist network, officials said.

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