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Huge Explosion in Baghdad

Aired March 17, 2004 - 12:20   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking at a live picture of Baghdad. This would be downtown Baghdad, where CNN has now confirmed a huge explosion, a large explosion, only in the last few minutes, has been heard. You probably can see to the left of your screen some smoke.
The Reuters News Agency reporting from Baghdad that a Baghdad hotel has been destroyed by the blast. Reuters reporting several dead. CNN does not have independent confirmation of that yet. The Reuters News Agency saying a Baghdad hotel has been destroyed. Unclear which hotel.

Also unclear the extent of casualties. Reuters saying several people are dead. We don't have that independently confirmed yet.

The Associated Press also simply reporting a large explosion has been heard in central Baghdad. Our reporters, our producers are on the scene. We're monitoring this situation. We're going to continue to watch what's happening in Baghdad.

It serves as a backdrop, though, to an important speech that the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is about to deliver in Washington, D.C. at George Washington University. Let's go to George Washington University, as Senator Kerry right now, he's just been introduced. And he's going to speak on U.S. national security and military matters.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... add that the secretary was responsible for negotiating, together with President Clinton and Madeleine Albright's leadership, the breakthrough that got us both inspectors and television cameras in the Pyongyang reactor. And we knew where those rods were, and we had a dialogue that could have moved forward.

Today, the world is a less safe, more dangerous place, because the cameras are gone, the inspectors are gone, the rods are out, and the weapons may, we judge, be in existence. And that is because of the kind of ideological rigidity that replaced the kind of reasoned, thoughtful efforts of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Ms. Secretary, I think all of the country and Madeleine -- Madame Secretary, all of the country joins in thanking you for that effort and for your accomplishments to try to make our nation safer. We appreciate it.

(APPLAUSE) KERRY: I want to thank Madeleine Albright personally for being here. Her leadership, all of you will agree, was groundbreaking, not just because she was the first woman to be secretary of state, but her efforts, her travels, her passion, the engagement that she gave America, the face of our diplomacy was proactive and engaged in a serious and thoughtful way. And countries responded to that.

And I do believe that the alliances that we built and that the relationships that have always been so much a part of America's safety were stronger then under the leadership of Madeleine Albright than they are with so many nations pushed away and so many people who should be on our side not at our side today.

So Madame Secretary, we thank you for having left America in a stronger and safer place when you left office. And we appreciate that leadership.


And General Shalikashvili is a hero to many of us. He is, as I think you all know, a soldier's soldier. His leadership record is long and distinguished.

Cory (ph) very adequately talked about all of that. But let me just say that I had the pleasure of watching him work as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during a difficult time when there were very difficult issues on the table. And his briefings, his cooperation, his openness in the exchange of information was, may I say, without parallel. And I'll tell you this, none of us had any doubts about the truthfulness and the fullness of the information that we were being given at that time.

So, General Shalikashvili, thank you for your great leadership. And your nation thanks you for your long service to your country. We appreciate it.


BLITZER: We're going to break away temporarily from Senator Kerry's speech at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to go back to Baghdad, where only within the past few moments a huge explosion was heard. CNN's Walter Rodgers is there on the scene for us.

Walter, tell our viewers in the United States and around the world what you've learned.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iraqi insurgents fired a very large explosion in the general direction at which our camera is pointed. About maybe 300 meters the other side of the mosque which you're looking at.

Now, this appears to be the Iraqi insurgents' answer to the fact that the U.S. Army earlier today launched a citywide sweep of Baghdad. That citywide sweep has been called Operation Iron Promise. And its goal, of course, was to rid the city of the extremists who have been firing these weapons into civilian neighborhoods at night, rid the city of the extremists who have been bombing mosques and attacking the mullahs, the Islamic leaders who cooperate with the United States and the coalition forces.

The blast also proves that, despite a very large operation combined with U.S. forces and the Iraqi civil defense forces, it also demonstrates that the Iraqi capital, one year after this war commenced, is a very dangerous place to live and work. So far this week in Iraq, four American Baptist missionaries were killed. So were two European workers, a German and a Dutchman, trying to help the Iraqis get clean water down around Hillah.

Now, again, what this exercise that the Army is undertaking, is trying to do, is coordinate a large-scale sweep through the city, looking for the extremists, looking for the weapons markets, looking for the bomb-making parts and components in houses where they have intelligence that perhaps the insurgents may be hiding. The problem, of course, is that the insurgents know this city even better than the Army does. And again, the insurgents fired off their answer to this Operation Iron Promise just a few moments ago, a major explosion just the other side of the mosque at which you're looking now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Walter, the wire service, Reuters, The Associated Press, saying that this explosion at least has damaged if not destroyed a hotel near where you are right now. Do we have any independent information on what, if anything, may have been destroyed in this blast?

RODGERS: We think it's the Salaam Hotel or the Islam Hotel. We're getting only preliminary reports now. Again, our camera is pointing in the direction of where that explosion took place.

We're not sure whether it was a bomb inside the hotel or outside one of those buildings, or whether indeed it might have been a rocket fired in that direction. We don't know the cause of the explosion. Only that within the last 10 minutes, there was a very large explosion on the other side of that mosque that you're looking at now. Perhaps 200 to 300 meters...

BLITZER: You know, Walter, I'm going to interrupt you to tell our viewers what we're seeing now is this videotape that's just coming in to CNN right now of this blast. You see the fire that clearly has destroyed a huge chunk of this building. Whether it's a hotel or next to a hotel, still unclear. But people being carried away, and people going through this rubble. Clearly, a significant amount of destruction, as we can see from the videotape that's now coming in to CNN.

Now we're back to the live picture where you are, Walter. I interrupted you because I wanted to explain to our viewers what they were seeing. But based on the videotape we've just seen, Walter, a significant amount of damage and destruction in this blast not far away from where you are. Why don't you pick up the story based on what you know now?

RODGERS: Well, again, the blast took place within the last 10 minutes. I'm probably within 400 yards, about a quarter of a mile from where it was. We were working in our workspace in the Palestine Hotel.

Again, a horrendous blast. It shook the building here. And we knew something bad was happening.

Of course, we had no idea where the shell hit, and that another hotel in Baghdad was being targeted. But obviously you're getting pictures to show that a major portion of that building was destroyed.

We do not know at this point who the guests were in that hotel, who was living there, nor do we know the motivation for the attack by the insurgents. All we know is that the U.S. Army and the Iraqi civil defense force began a major military operation through the city of Baghdad today called Iron Promise. It was a sweep, and it was supposed to arrest, detain and prevent just the insurgents and prevent just this sort of thing from happening.

But once again, in Iraq, one year after this war began, the insurgents are demonstrating as forcefully as ever they roam about pretty freely. The only thing we can say is that the hotel we're in is much better protected than the one you've been showing pictures of -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The video that we're showing -- and now -- here it is. The Associated Press, Walter, reporting it occurred right behind Firda Square (ph). And our viewers will remember that's where the bronze statue of Saddam Hussein fell. It was torn down, actually, on April 9th, signaling the end of major combat.

Clearly, the takeover of Baghdad, as you personally remember, Walter, very well. You were there at the time in the Karada district of the Iraqi capital.

Clearly, there are casualties. We see people being carried away. People on the ground wounded. Ambulances have been brought to the scene. This is a huge explosion.

Is this area within the so-called Green Zone, Walter, of Baghdad, the most secure area, where the coalition authority has put most of its resources in?

RODGERS: Yes, Wolf. The Green Zone area is the most secure area in Baghdad because that's where the coalition forces are and many of the U.S. military. But that's not what our camera is showing you. And it is a very good distance away from where this explosion took place a short while ago.

A senior U.S. military official here is now speculating that what may have occurred could have been a large car bomb that exploded outside that hotel. But again, as you look at the pictures we're showing, other than the AP pictures, we're showing you the mosque, which is, as I say, 200 to 300 meters away from where the explosion occurred.

The statue of Saddam Hussein, to which you referred a few minutes ago, Wolf, is actually between where I'm standing now and the mosque in the general direction in which the CNN camera is pointing. Again, we can see some of the areas around that -- where the explosion took place are without electricity now. I just saw a spotlight sweeping one of those buildings.

Speculation again on the part of a senior military official seems to suggest it may have been a car bomb. It was very, very loud. Some people were yelling "Mortar" as soon as it went off, but that was much louder than a mortar. It sounded like a very large artillery shell and, more likely, according to a U.S. military official here, more likely a car bomb.

Again we're in the very early stages. The blast took place just about 15 minutes ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This hotel in this area that was apparently destroyed or severely damaged, do you know, Walter, if it houses U.S. or coalition military personnel, or civilians? Or who generally stays in these hotels in the area?

RODGERS: I cannot speak to the hotel which was hit in this blast, Wolf. I can tell you that U.S. forces and coalition forces and U.S. private contractors in Baghdad are generally in much, much more heavily-fortified hotels.

The hotels in the immediate vicinity of which I'm standing have huge concrete barriers around them, coils of barbed wire. No car bomb could get close to this hotel.

And additionally, there is U.S. military armor outside, M1A1 Abrams tanks, as well as the occasional Bradley fighting vehicle. And you can't get close to the most sensitive hotels where some journalists like myself are staying, and where a few military officials are staying, and where private U.S. contractors are staying.

Remember, guerrillas, insurgents always strike soft targets. And the soft target which was hit this evening was a hotel probably a quarter of a mile away from the Palestine Hotel, where many of the broadcast agencies have facilities. And it was at least 200 to 300 yards beyond that mosque in the immediate background. And that mosque is the area where the old statue of Saddam Hussein stood, the very famous statue which was toppled late in March, early April -- actually early April a year ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Walter, I want to just recap for our viewers who might just be tuning in right now, what we know, what we don't know. A huge explosion we clearly know has occurred within the past 20 minutes or so in Baghdad, in the central part of Baghdad, not far from CNN's Walter Rodgers, who is at the Palestine Hotel, not far from there. Near the area, that square where Saddam Hussein's statue was brought down on April 9th when the U.S. and coalition forces took control of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Our viewers are seeing now a fire that's burning clearly at the hotel, the building that was destroyed in what may have been -- may have been a suicide car bombing, or it could have been just a series of large mortars that were leveled. Walter Rodgers suggesting, though, based on information he's getting, that it could be a suicide car bombing that clearly has destroyed this stretch, where we see individuals trying to get out and others on the ground.

Walter, I want to bring in Professor Fawaz Gerges in to our viewers in the United States and around the world seeing this on CNN International. We're showing you these live breaking news pictures of what's happening in Baghdad right now.

You've just came, Fawaz, from the Middle East. You see what's happening in Baghdad right now. Give us your assessment what this means.

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Wolf, one year later far from being pacified, Iraq remains a highly volatile place. The Iraqi insurgency, which has claimed hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi lives, does not really show any signs of receding, despite the capture of Saddam Hussein, despite the killing of his two sons, despite the incarceration of almost 10,000 Iraqis.

In fact, as you said, I have just returned from the Middle East, where I attended a conference on Iraq attended by dozens of Iraqi activists, politicians and academics. The American version, our version, says most of the attacks are launched by al Qaeda's affiliates and Saddam Hussein loyalists. Our version does not take into account the existence of an envisionist Islamist resistance within the Sunni community which is leading the insurgency against the American forces.

BLITZER: This is Professor Fawaz Gerges.

What you're suggesting is a combination of terrorists who have infiltrated Iraq since the war, as well as local Iraqis who are leading this resistance to the U.S.-led occupation. Is that what you're saying?

GERGEZ: Well, what I'm suggesting, according to Iraqi activists who live in the Sunni Triangle and who study the insurgency, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just for our American audience conducted by Iraqi activists based on large random samples. Insurgents kill all over the Sunni Triangle.

This academic finds, Wolf, that 80 percent of all insurgents killed in Iraq tend to be Islamist activists whose median age does not exceed 24 years old. Of all those incarcerated by American forces, 70 percent are envisionist Islamists.

According to the study that's based on a large random sample of all insurgents killed, just 13 percent of all that insurgents were motivated by national sentiments. And just five percent are foreign fighters, and two percent are loyalists and Saddam Hussein loyal. Most of the fighters in Iraq tend to be Islamist envisionists Iraqi Islamists who are leading the fight against the American forces.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to Baghdad. CNN's Walter Rodgers is on the scene for us. He's getting additional information on this huge explosion that rocked Baghdad only within the past 15 or 20 minutes or so.

You can see smoke billowing, coming up from behind the mosque. These are live pictures you're seeing from downtown Baghdad. A large explosion.

Walter, have you gathered some more information from your sources there on precisely what we know? Was this hotel not far from where you are completely destroyed?

RODGERS: Precision is a loose term in a situation like this, Wolf. Precision will come after an investigation.

We can tell you more about the neighborhood it was in. It was close to what is called the Swan Lake Hotel. Again, a U.S. military official has said that he believes but cannot confirm there was a very large car bomb.

That was consistent with the size of the blast which I heard. It sounded like a very, very large artillery shell. The insurgents don't have large artillery.

So again, the large magnitude of the explosion which occurred about 20 or 25 minutes ago now, the large magnitude of that explosion suggests indeed a car bomb. Nothing to suggest a suicide bomb at this point.

Again, this particular neighborhood you can see the fires in, it is a mixed residential and commercial neighborhood in the heart of Baghdad. It is very close to the major complex where U.S. military and civilian contractors are staying, in the Sheraton, the hotel complex, and the Palestine Hotel complex. But that particular area is -- probably where the explosion took place is almost certainly not as well guarded as the area in which most military personnel and civilian contractors are here in Baghdad. The reason being that when the U.S. moved into Baghdad, and when the situation began to deteriorate, huge concrete fences -- we're talking about 10, 15 meters high, surrounds most of the areas where U.S. residents are.

Now, I don't know whether there were any journalists in that Swan Lake Hotel or how much of the building was destroyed at this point. It will probably be daylight before we get a clearer picture. And that's many, many hours away here in Baghdad.

But, again, at about 10 past 8:00 local time in Baghdad, a very, very powerful explosion. We all knew it was trouble. To me, it sounded like large artillery, except I know the insurgents don't have large artillery. That argued almost automatically for a car bomb. And that appears to be the initial surmise of the coalition forces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Walter, stand by.

CNN security analyst, Kelly McCann, who not long ago was in Baghdad himself, is joining us on the phone.

Kelly, I know you're looking at these pictures. You've seen the aftermath of a rocket attack, you've seen the aftermath of a car bombing. What does it look like to you?

KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Wolf, which is, of course -- initially, it is very difficult to discern. But I will also suggest there are a lot of hotels that don't have the security buffers that Walt was talking about. A lot of the smaller contractors, a lot of people looking to do business in Iraq are staying at some foreign-operated hotels that basically have no security other than the street.

I mean, basically, a vehicle could pull unobstructed right up to the front of the hotel. I'm familiar with that area, and I'm familiar with that hotel. If, in fact, it is the Swan Lake, it meets that kind of criteria. There aren't the key barricades that you see around the Baghdad Hotel and other hotels in the area.

It certainly looks like it was a very large bomb. The bombs normally have been running somewhere between 500 pounds and up to 2,000 pounds of composite explosives. So until we know further, it certainly has all the earmarks of more of a suicide bombing.

BLITZER: And we have seen, Walter Rodgers, over these months, several car bombings in Baghdad. The Jordanian Embassy was effectively blown up, the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad effectively was blown up by a car bombing. More recently, we've seen it outside of Baghdad.

Inside Baghdad, we saw several mortuary attacks. We've seen plenty of these improvised explosive devices along the roads. How unusual would a car bombing of this magnitude be in Baghdad, Walter, right now?

RODGERS: Not unusual, Wolf, even if it is without immediate precedent. But let me give you just a little more detail at this point.

The blast was near the Swan Lake Hotel. But the apparent target was another residential hotel, the Jabal Lebanon Hotel. And we believe that that's the building which was hit the hardest.

Now, what's significant about these targets and the use of the car bomb is -- if indeed it was a car bomb -- what's significant is it's further evidence of the growing attacks on civilians here. Not just Iraqi civilians, but if indeed there were western contractors in that hotel, that establishes the trend.

Look in the course of the past week. Two days ago, four Baptist missionaries gunned down near Mosul. These were just nongovernment workers out to help the Iraqis. They were gunned down in a drive-by shooting.

Yesterday, two Europeans killed. Now, those were drive-by shootings outside Baghdad. A car bomb is much more effective in Baghdad, of course, because of the close proximity that you can bring a car to a hotel where you might have had western contractors or where you might have had western businessmen looking for business in the new Iraq. So a car bomb near a hotel, a residential hotel, private businessmen, whoever was staying in the Jabal Lebanon Hotel, which is now we've established is the exact hotel that was hit, this is consistent with what the Iraqi insurgents have been doing on an escalating basis over the course of the past several weeks.

Less attention to U.S. soldiers, although they're still very much a target. But remember, insurgents, terrorists always go after soft targets. Soft targets are residential hotels in much of this city, where people who are not directly related to the U.S. military operation here or the intelligence operations here or, for that matter, related to the military here are more apt to be in these residential hotels.

And, again, as one of your guests said, they're virtually unprotected. And increasingly, in case you have any doubts, western civilians are the major target in Iraq these days. Look at those four Baptist missionaries and the two Europeans.

The Europeans were merely trying to help the Iraqis near Karbala, trying to help them get a clean water supply. They were targets.

The idea is to thwart the coalition and American-led reconstruction effort in Iraq and to terrify people, to frighten them away from any cooperation with the United States. And more importantly, in all of this, it comes less than 12 hours after the United States Army and the Iraqi civil defense forces launched a major sweep of Baghdad to try to collect this bomb-making equipment, to arrest the extremists. And what we've seen tonight, this major explosion, apparently a car bomb at the Jabal Lebanon Hotel, was the insurgents' answer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Walter, we're continuing our extensive coverage on CNN and CNN International.

Breaking news from Baghdad. A huge explosion rocking a hotel in central Baghdad.

CNN's Jane Arraf, our Baghdad bureau chief, has now made it to the scene. She's joining us on the phone.

Jane, what have you learned?

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, it is a scene from hell here, surrounded by burning vehicles, still burning around us. There are people out in what looks to be a half-constructed building just where apparently was a car bomb exploded.

The engine has been thrown across the street, and streets from here, Wolf, there was shattered glass and people running from the scene, arguing with each other about whether it was a car bomb or whether it was a rocket. It appears clearly to have been a car bomb. There's debris shattered all over.

It's not clear how many casualties yet, Wolf. There are ambulances starting to arrive, a fire truck trying to arrive to the scene, and everywhere smoke and fire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The Associated Press, Jane, is reporting now that eyewitnesses are seeing bodies being taken from this building. Have you seen that yourself?

ARRAF: What we're seeing is maybe a rescue effort that is being attempted. There are still people going through this burning building, Wolf. And I'll describe the scene for you a little bit.

On the ground, there are flames everywhere from this apparent car bomb explosion. And in the building, there are flames and smoke billowing out the windows. There are people who appear to be searching still for victims or survivors.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE), but it's a very crowded scene. There's debris everywhere. Extremely difficult to tell who may be in this debris.

BLITZER: Jane, but you have definitively discovered, learned that this, in fact, was a car bombing, not incoming mortar or rocket attack?

ARRAF: It's not -- there's this huge (UNINTELLIGIBLE) car bomb. The scene is absolutely incredible. It's just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pieces of this car, pieces of the building, and presumably (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people standing around very far away here.

Now, it's really chaotic here (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Wolf. There are people screaming and shouting. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and we're now starting to hear the sound of what must be gunfire. The fire trucks have just arrived with new Iraqi firemen turning their fire hoses on these flames that are billowing out of one of the buildings. But clearly, Wolf, a car bomb, a very large one.

BLITZER: A large car bomb. And do you know if it was, as Walter was suggestinging, the Cabal Lebanon Hotel (ph), which is next to the Swan Lake Hotel? Do you know the exact name of this hotel that was bombed?

ARRAF: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) understand it was the Lebanese Hotel (ph) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It was...

ARRAF: This is an area of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: We're having a little trouble hearing you on the phone. Just go ahead. Start again. What was the name of the hotel?

ARRAF: People in the neighborhood say it was the Lebanese Hotel (ph). But also, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Wolf, we have to go. I'll stay on the line as we are moving, but we are being told (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: All right. Jane, I want you -- all right, Jane, go ahead and move to a more secure location. We'll reconnect, maybe get a better phone line.

Walter Rodgers is still with us.

Walter, this Friday is the first anniversary of the start of the war, the U.S.-led invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I assume, in anticipation of this anniversary, there have been extensive security preparations under way to try to prevent precisely what we're seeing right now in Baghdad. I wonder if you could talk about that.

RODGERS: I can, Wolf. But we need to tell you that we have Iraqi police sources now saying many, many dead, many injured. We're seeing the pictures of the destruction of the hotel and the condominiums which were in that particular area in downtown Baghdad.

In truth, I think probably there was no more security on the streets today than there is any other day in Baghdad, and no more security than there is any other day in Iraq. The anniversary of the American-led war is being remembered more in the United States than it is being marked or celebrated here.

Every single day, Iraqi citizens are vulnerable to blasts like this. And you have to assume, with a blast as powerful as what appears to have been this car bomb, many Iraqi civilians were injured in that blast, as well as whoever was in the hotel. And we don't know who was in the hotel which was targeted.

Having said that, again, the security in this country is extraordinarily tight. If you go to the private security briefings that we as reporters get here, they will tell you -- the security officials will tell you -- these are private security contractors -- the situation in Iraq, and particularly Baghdad, has deteriorated markedly in the past two months.

They will also tell you every westerner is a potential target here now. That is what you are seeing again this evening. And the anniversary of the beginning of this war has very little to do with what we're seeing on the streets here. It is an anniversary marked more in the United States and less than in Baghdad, again, because in Baghdad, what people are trying to find is not a nostalgic reminisce, but rather they're trying to find security.

And once again, we're being shown tonight there is precious little security here. The insurgents move pretty much at will -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Walter, stand by. And just let me reset the scene for our viewers in the United States watching this on CNN, and around the world on CNN International.

A huge car bomb explosion has rocked the central part of Baghdad. The Jabal Lebanon Hotel has apparently been destroyed. You're looking at this videotape, pictures taken only within the past few moments.

Walter Rodgers quoting Iraqi police as saying, "Many, many dead. Many, many injured." We've seen people being removed.

Jane Arraf has now moved to a more secure location. She's not far away from where this bombing occurred. Jane, tell our viewers what you are seeing right now.

ARRAF: Well, we're just a few feet away actually from the bomb crater. And there are people here digging with their bare hands through the rubble. We're being showered by rocks (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They obviously have been buildings that have collapsed of what was obviously a very powerful car bomb.

It appears to have exploded outside a small hotel. Now, this is a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It is packed with small hotels. There's a huge crater in front of us and absolute chaos.

The Iraqi police have just arrived on the scene. There's an Iraqi fireman with a fire hose, one of the new fire trucks, trying to extinguish the blaze. Flames still billowing from one of the half- constructed buildings.

And as we're looking now, Wolf, really a scene that might have come out of hell. There are flames rising up from the remnants of this explosion, a crowd of people who are screaming and shouting. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and huge rocks with their bare hands, trying to extricate people who appear to be trapped in the rubble of this explosion.

BLITZER: Is anyone, Jane, giving you any preliminary numbers as far as killed, dead and injured?

ARRAF: It's just too chaotic to put exact figures on it. But clearly, there have been people who have -- there have been victims, casualties who have already been taken away by ambulance in the few minutes since the explosion happened. And clearly, Wolf, there are people still trapped under this burning rubble, these burning timbers and these collapsed brick that used to be apparently a small hotel near where this car bomb exploded.

But again, it is extremely chaotic here. Looking down the street, the front end of the street, there are lights of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the lights of the emergency vehicles. In the middle, there's an absolute -- almost a riot breaking out, as people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) try to see if anyone may be trapped underneath, gripping these bricks and stones to try to unearth some rubble from them.

Looking down the street, Wolf, there are more flames. We are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) surrounded by flames in this explosion that has left this huge crater. American soldiers here are telling people to move back, saying that there may be a danger of another explosion.

BLITZER: Jane, the -- we saw...

ARRAF: Go ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jane, I don't know if they're telling you to move out of there. And, of course, if there's any danger, we want you to move to a more secure location. But on the videotape that we're showing our viewers around the world, we do see U.S. soldiers on the scene. Are there significant numbers of American troops who have now come to this area to try to deal with this disaster?

ARRAF: They just started to arrive, wolf. The troops now are concentrated in specific areas. They're not spread out all over town, as they were at the beginning, and they're not spread out in the evenings.

When this explosion happened -- and it was a very loud explosion -- the nearest unit was called over. And these soldiers are now arriving, trying to restore a tiny about of order to what is just an incredibly chaotic scene.

They're pushing people back, trying to figure out whether there are people still trapped in the rubble. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) police to try to clear the area of what essentially is an ongoing riot, as people scrambling through the rubble trying to lift it up, trying to find any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) underneath.

BLITZER: Is there any indication of who was staying at this Jabal Lebanon Hotel, whether they were Iraqis, foreigners, westerners, U.S. civilian or military personnel? Do you know?

ARRAF: There does not appear to be military personnel in this hotel. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are really ensconced in their bases. There is no military personnel that would be staying at small hotels like this.

Now, there are a series of small hotels here in central Baghdad. And it tends to be used by people without a lot of money, either humanitarian workers who have come, Iraqi business people, travelers. And they congregate in small places like this.

This is a crowded street in central Baghdad. It would have had several small hotels on it.

And it's very close to one of the major hotels as well. It's very close to The Palestine Hotel, where we and other foreign journalists, as well as U.S. contractors, are based. It is an area that's very crowded with all kinds of people. But certainly no American soldiers, and unlikely that American civilians would have been staying here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jane, catch your breath. If you have to move to a different location, go ahead. Walter Rodgers is still with us. He's in Baghdad continuing to collect more information on what we're seeing.

Clearly the videotape, Walter, that our viewers around the world are seeing, it shows a horrendous scene, a huge bomb blast apparently, as Jane is saying, a car bomb blast. It looks like it must have been a very powerful bomb to do that kind of damage. What else are you learning -- Walter.

RODGERS: Wolf, well, as Jane was telling you, U.S. military personnel from the Green Zone, which is a mile and a half, perhaps two miles away, came here. They came in their Humvee vehicles and their Bradleys. That gives them a modicum of protection. They went in, tried to rescue people from the collapsed buildings, from the burning flames. The Iraqis were so furious, they drove off the soldiers who were trying to rescue the injured people and told the American soldiers to get out of here. That's how fiery the Iraqi and Arab temper is on the streets of Baghdad these days.

One of the reasons you heard during Jane's report that the soldiers were shouting at the people to get back and get back is because one of the patterns that terrorists use in a situation like this is they will set off one large car bomb, then the rescue workers and the people will come in trying to help the injured, and they'll have a second bomb all set ready to go.

That has not happened tonight. But it is one reason that U.S. soldiers are so nervous in this area now, trying to drive people further and further back from the collapsed and burns building which was the principal target of the insurgents tonight when they detonated that car bomb -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're getting new information from The Associated Press now in, Walter. As many as 10 people killed in the Baghdad hotel blast, according to Iraqi police. As many as 10 killed.

But these numbers have a tendency to go up, as our viewers will recall only from the past few days. The initial numbers coming in from the terror attacks in Madrid, Spain, were relatively low, winding up with more than 200 people killed in Madrid, more than 1,500 injured.

Kelly McCann, our security analyst, is on the phone as well.

Walter Rodgers makes an excellent point and reminds our viewers that from a security standpoint, Kelly, once there's one terror attack, that lures a lot of people into the area, only to see a second or third explosion go out. How do you deal with that potential threat if you're a security specialist?

KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, initially, Wolf, what they try to do is -- and this model was set up by the IRA years ago, where the initial blast, then the secondary blast would kill the emergency personnel that would respond to it.

Basically, the faster you get up an inner perimeter, which basically pushes out everyone that is not involved in a rescue, and then you have outside of that an outer perimeter, and that's where the press would be, that's where nonessential personnel, et cetera would be. They also try to clear avenues of ingress and egress so emergency vehicles can move with wounded and evacuate the dead.

Very, very difficult situation. I've been in the Jabal Lebanon Hotel my last visit there. And I know two people that are staying there. And I can tell you that security was nonexistent.

It is located right on the frontage of a street in a traffic circle. They had no key barriers. Very, very open. And by intent it was -- we spoke to some of the security management personnel there at that hotel, and they actually said that they wanted, they thought that the idea would be better to lower their profile by not having a lot of bomb blast mitigation and bomb blast wave propagation protective measures. So, you know, it's one of those situations where that strategy clearly isn't going to work, where you see people that have 2,000-pound, 1000-pound bombs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it your sense, Kelly -- you were there at the Jabal Lebanon Hotel, which apparently has been destroyed in this car bomb blast, suicide bombing. We assume that's what's unfolding right now based on our eyewitness, Jane Arraf, our Baghdad bureau chief who is there. Were mostly westerners staying at this hotel?

MCCANN: What I saw in that hotel, Wolf, when I was there, was a fairly good smattering of foreign business people, people that came from the Gulf region to do business in Baghdad, perhaps with CPA and infrastructure rebuild, et cetera. But there were also a small smattering of westerners.

As I said, I know two people who are staying there. I don't know yet whether they're in there or not. But there were perhaps a dozen or so Americans, contractors who were working for small companies. And they were trying to get a foothold in the commercial interest in Baghdad. So you basically saw a very multicultural kind of thing, as Jane described -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The other point that we were getting from Walter Rodgers, eyewitnesses there, including Jane Arref, our Baghdad bureau chief, suggesting that as U.S. troops were moving in to try to deal with the wounded and help in the clearing of the rubble, some angry Iraqis were retaliating against them. Potentially, this could be a significant problem and a chaotic situation that clearly exists around this hotel in Baghdad -- Kelly.

MCCANN: They're torn between, Wolf, feeling that the U.S. caused this, these kind of run-on attacks, and accepting the help. I mean, left to the Iraqi infrastructure, the Iraqi hospitals, the Iraqi medics, more people will die.

So it is just a testament, as Walt had said, how angry people are at their current situation. They quite don't know where to turn.

They feel like blaming the U.S., but they still know that the U.S. has the capability to help them in emergencies like this. It's a very difficult situation to comprehend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring back Walter Rodgers, who is in Baghdad monitoring what's going on.

And just to update our viewers, a car bombing -- it looks like a car bombing -- has destroyed a hotel in central Baghdad. Looks like the Jabal Lebanon Hotel. The Associated Press now reporting as many as 10 people have been killed.

You see on this map that we're putting up, that Jabal Hotel not far from Firdos Square (ph). And our viewers will remember, April 9th of last year, that's the square where that huge bronze statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down, signaling the overthrow of his regime in Baghdad and throughout Iraq.

Walter Rodgers, you're there. Are you getting some more details on what happened?

RODGERS: Wolf, let me recapitulate. They're saying 10 dead, but in a situation like this, at night, you could have many, many more dead. Indeed, the initial police report from the Iraqis said there were many dead.

Again, it is now almost 50 minutes exactly. Nearly an hour since this car bomb. And we assume it is a car bomb occurred in downtown Baghdad.

And just within the past few seconds, as you were throwing to me, Wolf, they were still sending ambulances to the area. If they're still sending ambulances to the site of this blast in downtown Baghdad this evening, it means that there are many people -- it almost certainly means there are many people yet to be pulled out from the rubble.

What we again know is this was a mixed residential-commercial area about a quarter mile from the Palestine Hotel. And at 10 minutes past 8:00 local time, a horrendous blast. It sounded like a giant artillery shell, but again, the insurgents don't have that size artillery.

That almost automatically argues for a car bomb. That's what Jane Arraf was saying, people were saying on the scene outside the Jabal Lebanon Hotel in the general area also of the Swan Lake Hotel. I think you can hear yet another ambulance headed in that general direction. Again, 50 minutes later, they're still sending ambulances there.

The insurgents have struck, coincidentally or perhaps deliberately, on the very same day the United States Army 1st Armored Division working with Iraqi police launched this giant sweep through Baghdad to arrest the extremists, to take away bomb-making materials, to prevent just this sort of thing from happening.

And, again, the insurgents in the Iraqi capital, almost a year from the outset of the war, are saying, you can't touch us, we can hit you anytime we want. Maybe not the hard targets, but certainly the soft targets. And that was the target tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the sense that this may have been timed with the first anniversary, Walter, I know it's speculative at this point. But I know you've been getting briefings from U.S. military, Iraqi security personnel.

Were they bracing for some sort of major terror attack around this specific time?

RODGERS: Wolf, every single day, the U.S. military and all security personnel are braced for this to happen. And just yesterday, there was a briefing in which a U.S. general said flat-out the attacks like this are going to grow. They're going to grow and continue all the way up to June 30. June 30 is of course the time when the Iraqis are supposed to take over their own self-government.

At that point, the Americans are relinquishing their governmental control. That's the time. This run-up to June 30 is going to be very, very bloody. Every single American official here we've talked to has told you that. This is the trend. The trend is, very simply, they are going to attack civilians here, Western civilians, any Western civilian, it's open season on here.

All you have to do is look at the people that were killed this week even before this blast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And these are pictures we're getting in from Al-Jazeera right now, pictures showing the rescue workers, the ambulances, U.S. personnel, military personnel, on the scene, as well, at this Jabal or Mount Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad, where there have been casualties, dead and wounded. Precisely how many of course we don't yet know. The Associated Press saying at least ten now have been killed, according to Iraqi police on screen.

We'll stay with this important story, breaking news. My colleagues, Kyra Phillips, Miles O'Brien, will pick up coverage from Atlanta.


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