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Iraqis Recall Deadly Blast at Eatery

November 11, 2005|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — It was 9:45 a.m. and the police who had come late were debating whether they had time to stand in line before duty for hishreeb bagila, a bread-and-beans breakfast, at Qadori restaurant.

Moments later, one or two explosions -- witnesses disagreed -- ripped through the crowded greasy spoon on the bank of the Tigris River, hitting customers with a maelstrom of glass and debris and sending tables and chairs into the air.

Iraqi police said at least 33 people were killed and 24 were injured, 19 of them seriously.

In the grim calculus of daily attacks in Baghdad, hitting the iconic mornings-only restaurant popular with workers, merchants, poor students and police appeared to be a way for the terrorists to say even the most ordinary of habits in this capital is not safe.

There was no doubt that an attack on the restaurant would kill officers of the new Iraqi security services. But it was also bound to harm ordinary Baghdadis, those who ply their modest trades in the print shops and home furnishing stores between the Tigris and Saadoun Street.

Police Maj. Abdel-Hussein Minsef said seven police officers and 26 civilians were killed in the blast, and 20 civilians were among the injured.

The attack came on the heels of blasts Wednesday at three hotels in neighboring Jordan. In all, Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, had claimed responsibility in Internet statements for killing nearly 100 people in a 12-hour spree of suicide and car bombings in two countries.

Aswan Mohammed, 35, who survived the attack on the restaurant, said he was giving his 18-year-old son, Haider, a hug just before the explosion.

He said the blast tore the glass and brick apart, and patrons trampled one another as they ran for the exit.

Later in Al Kindi Hospital, Aswan Mohammed sat on a bloodstained bed, stone-faced, bare-chested and bandaged, as other men were being treated for their wounds. His eyes were filled with blood and tears.

Next door, in a bare room, his dead son Haider lay wrapped in a bloody sheath.

Nearby, a man gently folded a flowery bedspread tighter around another body lying on a slab, as if tucking a child into bed.

At the hospital, one of the capital's main trauma centers to which many of the victims were taken, a policeman with a bandage above his right eye said he and his colleagues had been running late, and had been standing outside discussing whether they had time to run in for a bite.

"If we'd gone into the restaurant, we'd be dead by now," he said. "Whenever we are on duty that is where we go to eat. We did not anticipate that anything would happen."

Nabil Shamoon, 48, was killed even though he had not gone into the restaurant. The impoverished man, a father of seven, eked out a living selling cigarettes and lemons from a sidewalk stand just outside the Qadori restaurant. Patrons would buy his cigarettes and squeeze the lemons over their food.

When the blast hit, a ball bearing or piece of shrapnel struck the back of his head, Shamoon's three sons recounted hours later after police had left the scene. Rimon, 15, had heard the blast from the print shop where he was working a few hundred yards away and ran up to a scene of utter devastation, with his father lying on the ground.

"We took him to a hospital in a Kia minibus, the one wound in his head bleeding heavily," Rimon said. "I just wanted to stop the bleeding. Upon our arrival, I shouted at doctors, and I made eight doctors gather around his bed.... He died in front of my eyes."

Another son, Revon, 17, who was in school when the blast occurred, said the restaurant owner had been tipped off by police that the establishment was on a hit list that had been found on a captured would-be insurgent, but he had refused to shut down.

"He cared more for money than for his safety," Revon said.

Pieces of flesh still lay on the ground along with other debris: bricks, glass, bent tables and chairs, and metal water pitchers perforated by the ball bearings or nuts and bolts that had evidently been in the bomb.

Adnan Ahmad Kadhim, 52, a guard in a nearby building, said he had taken his customary plate of breakfast from the restaurant, consumed it at his post and had walked back to return his plate. As he walked away, he said, he heard and felt the blast.

Among the scenes etched in his mind, he said, was a wounded waiter who stumbled out, trying to get away. He got as far as the next corner, turned up the street toward Kadhim's workplace and then fell dead next to a sedan.

As Rimon, Revon and the third brother Arkan stood on the sidewalk where their father was mortally wounded earlier in the day, neighbors came up to them one after another with condolences. "Al Baqiya bi Hayatak," they said. "May God give the rest of his years to you."

"All who died here were martyrs," Rimon said. "They will go to paradise, because they are innocent people."

*

Times staff writers Louise Roug and Suhail Affan contributed to this report.

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