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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Casualty Count Rising From Explosion At Restaurant in Central Baghdad

Aired December 31, 2003 - 14:44   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you quickly to Baghdad. The casualty count is rising from an explosion at a restaurant in central Baghdad. A car bomb tore through the restaurant packed with New Year's Eve revelers today. Several people are reported dead, at least 21 others wounded. Three or four buildings were flattened in the blast. No word yet of any arrests.
Want to go back to Satinder Bindra standing by live for us from the scene. Satinder, hello.

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Heidi. At the moment a U.S. helicopter is hovering overhead, and U.S. soldiers, about 30 to 40 of them have secured the area.

Let me describe what I'm seeing right in front of me. There's a lot of smoke coming out of the restaurant and there's a smell of explosives or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the air. U.S. troops are searching the area. They're looking for any possible unexploded ordnance.

There were rescue that were personnel in the area, that were trying to get to the restaurant about 15 minutes ago. They were pulled back now, and I dare say they had a very dangerous job because structurally what remains of the restaurant is very unsafe.

Right in front of the restaurant about, three or four cars. All this remains of them are blackened house. It's obvious that the bomb was placed in one of the car because that car has been smashed to smithereens.

Now, Heidi, the force of this explosion was so powerful that the buildings surrounding the restaurant have also been flattened. There's a building opposite the restaurant that has also been extensively damaged.

I was talking to a couple of residents here just about a moment ago, and they said the force woke them up from their beds, they were watching TV, all their windows have been smashed. They've rushed out and they're telling me now that they're not going to sleep in their houses, they're possibly going to go to friends and relatives. They just think it's too dangerous here. Back to you now.

COLLINS: Satinder, as we are looking at some of these picture coming in, I just want to ask you a couple of quick questions. What typically -- can you set the scene for us? What typically happens on New Year's Eve as we call it. I know in Iraq they observe New Years, but certainly not as much as America. Or other countries for that matter.

BINDRA: Yes, normally Iraqis go out to clubs, they go out to restaurants, they go out to hotels. They celebrate. And they also do something in a typical Iraqi fashion, they bring out Kalashnikovs or AK-47s and fire rounds the air.

But over the past two to three days, Heidi, the mood here has been extremely is somber. On Sunday there was a bomb placed in a busy neighborhood. That bomb killed two school children. Then another day later there was another bomb that went off, again in a busy neighborhood. Today two bombs went off. One of the bombs killed a child.

So people were really scared. They were anticipating travel. And indeed even the Iraqi police were anticipating trouble. Some 12,000 Iraqi police officials had been put on a state of high alert. They were walking through neighborhoods, they were conducting patrols, they were looking for possible Fedayeens or suicide bombers.

Now this explosion today at a popular restaurant where expatriates generally went confirmed the worst fears of many people in Baghdad. Certainly, there is very little holiday spirit here. Even as I was driving up to the bomb blast, I could see very few people out in the streets -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Satinder Bindra, thank you very much. Live from Baghdad and the scene there you are looking at the screen.

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