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Bombings in Baghdad

Aired October 27, 2003 - 05:01   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, our people in Iraq have been busy these last four and a half hours, when news broke of the series of bombings in Baghdad.
We go live now to the Iraqi capital and our Ben Wedeman -- Ben. BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Heidi, today is the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a month that's supposed to be a month of fasting and celebration of peace between Muslims. But today that holy month got off to an unholy start.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Fire and flames outside the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad, the first of a series of car bombings to shake the city. Just after 8:30 a.m. Baghdad time, the city shuddered when a van with Red Crescent markings and packed with explosives crashed into a barrier outside the Red Cross. The blast killed at least 10 people and wounded more than two dozen, all of them Iraqis.

The Red Cross had reduced its international staff in Iraq following the bombing in August of the U.N. headquarters. But it tried to avoid security measures that would create barriers between it and ordinary Iraqis.

NADA DOUMANI, RED CROSS SPOKESWOMAN: The Red Cross is here to assist people, to help them. So we cannot just build a concrete wall and stop and make a fence between us and the people. So we always, as I said, thought that the work we're doing was humanitarian and on the basis of this, we can assume that people know us and this would protect us.

WEDEMAN: Monday is the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. There had been warnings of a possible upsurge in attacks on coalition and other international targets.

BRIG. GEN. MARK HERTLING, U.S. ARMY: It's an indication that these criminals, these terrorists are indiscriminate in terms of who they're attacking, and especially at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. This is a bane on the Iraqi people and I think the majority of the Iraqis here are tired of this and they want a safe and secure environment. And these people are interfering with that.

WEDEMAN: Elsewhere in Baghdad, three police stations were apparently targeted by car bombers. The bombings wounded both Iraqi policemen and American soldiers. Today's blast just comes one day after up to 10 rockets smashed into the side of the Rasheed Hotel, temporary home to hundreds of coalition staff, including visiting U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who escaped unharmed.


WEDEMAN: Now, Heidi, we have more information on those other attacks. Three of them apparently were targeted at police stations in the Baya Shab (ph) and Al-Hadra (ph) neighborhoods. Now, there have been casualties, both Iraqi and American. But we don't have precise details on those yet.

And a fourth incident, apparently another bombing, was narrowly averted when Iraqi police shot at a man who was driving a Land Cruiser, a Toyota Land Cruiser. They hit him in the shoulder. They found on board that car what they said were five boxes of TNT high explosives. Now, Iraqi police say the man who was wounded in the shoulder was a Syrian national.

Now, there are also other incidents unrelated to the bombings of the morning. Overnight, two American soldiers with the 1st Armored Division and two others were killed and two others were wounded by a roadside bombing at the Abu Ghraib Prison outside of Baghdad on the road to Amman. Another soldier with the 18th Military Police Brigade was killed and two were wounded by a mortar attack. So it's been a very, very bloody day, indeed -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Ben, of course, we appreciate you keeping us up to date on all of this.

We'll check back in with you a little bit later on.

Ben Wedeman live from Baghdad.

Today's attack comes less than 24 hours after the Al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad was hit by several rockets. The hotel houses U.S. and coalition officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. He was on the 12th floor when the rockets struck. He was shaken but unhurt. One U.S. soldier, however, was killed. Fifteen others were wounded.

Following the attack, two members of Congress, one from each major party, said changes are needed.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The number of attacks on us have been increasing and the number of soldiers killed and wounded remain at the same rate and there are some things that we ought to be doing differently. But most importantly, we ought to acknowledge that there is a real problem there and not try to just paint the rosy scenario which too many members of this administration have painted.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think it's getting much better, but very clearly, the attack today shows that it's still an extremely dangerous situation. And it's led to many -- and I'm among them -- to believe that we really need to beef up counterinsurgency efforts, that we need to have the right kind of people at the right point and we need to improve substantially our intelligence.


COLLINS: A coalition official says he does not think the attack on the hotel was specifically targeting Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz.

Now, back to the breaking news out of Baghdad. The four explosions that rocked the Iraqi capital came within one hour of each other. The first and largest blast targeted the International Red Cross.

Our Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf, is on the scene and joins us now live -- good morning, Jane.

What can you tell us at this point?


They're still counting the losses here at the International Committee of the Red Cross. Now, you can see behind us just a small part of the damage done. This building, part of the headquarters of the ICRC, damaged by the blast. The blast itself, according to U.S. military officials, were explosives in a suicide bomb. Now, the explosives packed into a panel truck bearing the logo of the Red Crescent. And the Red Crescent, of course, is the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross. Trucks like these go throughout the city, carrying humanitarian as well as medical supplies. And this is, again, the first day of Ramadan, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. Particularly horrifying to many people here that the implement used to carry out this attack was, in fact, a symbol of Islam.

Now, as for the casualties, there are at least 10 people dead in this. The local hospital says it has a record of 11 having died and 13 wounded. Two of those appear to have been ICRC employees, local staff.

Now, the thing about this building is, and the thing about the organization, is it has been one of the most neutral. It's been here for more than 20 years and they have always said that they cannot have an armed presence here because that would make them less accessible to people. Clearly, they're bewaring some of the costs of that today -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Clearly. And, Jane, obviously we have no idea at this point about how organized or who may have done this bombing. But the fact that the Red Cross, as you say, so impartial, has been in the area for 23 years, what does that say about this type of bombing?

ARRAF: Well, the people with the Red Cross are absolutely in shock about this. What it says about the bombing is that there really isn't very much rhyme or reason, that the only common denominator, perhaps, is to create the kind of confusion, the kind of situation and the kind of chaos and terror, if you will, that could presumably lead to American troops withdrawing.

They are not going to do that. That's quite clear.

But this organization, for more than 20 years, has been, perhaps, more than any, been seen by Iraqis to be one that's genuinely helping Iraqis, without getting into politics at all. And it has had a policy of keeping a low profile, of not requesting armed sentries. It hasn't really had an armed presence here. And we'll have to see whether that changes. It clearly is the kind of city now where there are no safe places where anything could be a target -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf.

Jane, thanks so much.

We will check in with you later on, as well.


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