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Middle East - AP
Car Bomb Attacks Kill 35 Across Baghdad
13 minutes ago

By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Car bombers struck the international Red Cross headquarters and three police stations across Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 200 in a spree of destruction that terrorized the Iraqi capital on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

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The string of bombings, all within less than an hour, was the bloodiest attack yet in the city of 5 million by insurgents targeting the American-led occupation and those perceived as working with it. It also appeared like a dramatic escalation in tactics in past weeks, bombers have carried out heavy suicide bombings, but in single strikes.

The U.S. military said one American soldier was killed and six U.S. troops were wounded in the bombing at the al Baya'a police station in the city's ad-Doura district. Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim, the deputy interior minister, put the Iraqi death toll at 34, including 26 civilians and eight police.

Car bombs also exploded at the al-Shaab and al-Khadra police stations.

The Red Cross said 12 of the dead Iraqis were killed at its office, including two of its own employees.

The bombings came hours after clashes in the Baghdad area killed three U.S. soldiers overnight, and a day after insurgents hit a hotel full of U.S. occupation officials with a barrage of rockets, killing a U.S. colonel and wounding 18 other people. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel, but was unhurt.

"We feel helpless when see this," a distraught Iraqi doctor said at the devastated Red Cross offices.

A top Iraqi security official blamed foreign fighters for the assault.

"Iraq (news - web sites) is safeguarding freedom and no one will take that away from us...Some countries, unfortunately, are trying to send people to do attacks," Brig.Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim, deputy Interior Minister, told reporters, without naming which nations.

At a fourth police station in the "New Baghdad" district, officers stopped a suicide bomber before he could detonate his Land Cruiser. "He was shouting, `Death to the Iraqi police! You're collaborators!'" said police Sgt. Ahmed Abdel Sattar.

In Fallujah, 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad, witnesses said U.S. troops opened fire, killing at least four Iraqi civilians, after a roadside bomb exploded as a U.S. military convoy passed. The U.S. command did not immediately confirm the incident or any U.S. casualties.

At the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in central Baghdad, witnesses said a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed vehicle, apparently an ambulance, right up to security barriers outside the building at about 8:30 a.m. and detonated it, blowing down the Red Cross's front wall, devastating the interior and blowing shrapnel and debris over a wide area.

Baghdad ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani said she believed the employees were security guards.

Then, through the morning, four other vehicles exploded at police stations in the Baghdad area. Ambulances, sirens wailing, crisscrossed the city all morning.

"From what our indications are, none of those bombers got close to the target," U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling said. But the explosions outside police stations left streetscapes of broken, bloody bodies and twisted, burning automobiles.

Hertling said he believed the attacks may have been timed with the start of Ramadan in order to heighten tensions during the fasting month, when Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours and religious feelings run high.

Near the three-story ICRC building, cigarette vendor Ghani Khadim, 50, said he saw an Iraqi ambulance pass by his stand and approach the small compound some 100 meters (yards) away. It suddenly exploded, he said, and the blast blew out windows and injured his wife and daughter in his house behind his stand.

 

The vehicle had stopped some 60 feet in front of the Red Cross headquarters, "at a line of barrels we have had in front to protect the building," one Red Cross employee, who would not give his name.

The blast blew down a 40-foot section of the ICRC front wall, demolished a dozen cars in the area and apparently broke a water main, flooding the streets. The inside of the building was heavily damaged, littered with shattered glass, doors blown off their hinges, toppled bookcases and collapsed ceilings. A gaping crack had opened in a back wall, some 100 yards from the blast site, where a crater some five yards across quickly filled with water.

The Red Cross staff member said someone began firing off an automatic weapon immediately after the explosion "100 bullets or more." He said he believed it was a gunmen somehow associated with the bomber "who wanted to scare people more."

Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani said more than 100 workers would normally be at ICRC after 9 a.m., but staffers said only about one-quarter that number were present at 8:30 a.m.

"Of course we don't understand why somebody would attack the Red Cross," she said. "The Red Cross has operated in this country since 1980, and we have not been involved in politics."

In Geneva, Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal said the ICRC had disclosed in August that it had received warnings of a threat and added that it had been cutting back on its staff since a Sri Lankan staffer was killed July 22 south of Baghdad.

"Such an attack is a major blow for us," Westphal said. "It's a big shock. It is obviously impossible to move onto a normal day's business, so we really have to step back and take stock."

Two buildings away, the explosion devastated the interior of the Al-Nawal private polyclinic operated by Dr. Jamal F. Massa, 53, who had been planning to open it as a full-fledged hospital next month.

"We feel helpless when we see this," he said. He said he couldn't understand why the Red Cross would be attacked, since it had even reduced its foreign staff recently. "This only hurts guards and other Iraqis."

The Red Cross and other international aid organizations had reduced their Baghdad staffs after the car bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, in which 23 people died in what appeared to be a warning against international support for the U.S. occupation.

The U.S. general Hertling said Monday was "a great day for the Iraqi police" because security controls prevented the bombers from reaching their targets.

But Mouwafak al-Rabii, a Shiite Muslim member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, said the United States must speed up the training of Iraqi police and soldiers and employ ruthless measures to crush the insurgency.

"There is no doubt about it that we need to change the rules of engagement with these people," al-Rabii told CNN. "The rules of engagement now are too lenient."

The rocket attack Sunday struck the Al-Rasheed Hotel, where Wolfowitz was staying at the end of a three-day Iraq visit. The deputy defense secretary said afterward that attack "will not deter us from completing our mission" in Iraq.

But the bold blow at the heart of the U.S. presence here clearly rattled U.S. confidence that it is defeating Iraq's shadowy insurgents.

"We'll have to get the security situation under control," Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) told NBC's "Meet the Press."

The concrete western face of the 18-story hotel, located more than two miles west of the international Red Cross building, was pockmarked with a half-dozen or more blast holes. Windows shattered in at least two dozen rooms. The U.S. command said the wounded included seven American civilians, four U.S. military personnel and five non-U.S. civilians working for the coalition.

Two Iraqi security guards also were hurt. The command did not immediately identify the dead American, but Wolfowitz said he was a U.S. colonel.

___

Eds: Associated Press reporters Lourdes Navarro and Sabah Jerges contributed to this report.


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Next Story: Car Bomb Attacks Kill 35 Across Baghdad  (AP)

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