New blasts near Baghdad hotel

Two fresh explosions rocked the main US-led occupation compound in Baghdad, hours after a rocket attack on a hotel hosting the US deputy defence secretary.

    Trailer used for first attack was booby-trapped, US officials say

    A total of 29 rockets were fired on Sunday morning at al-Rashid hotel, which lies within the supposedly secure compound housing occupation administrative offices in Baghdad.

    The strike was the second on the occupation force's power base since US President George Bush declared an end to major combat operations on 1 May.

    “One US soldier was killed. Seven US civilians were wounded, four military were injured, along with four foreign nationals,” a US military spokesperson said at a news conference.
      
    Though the attack was not specifically aimed at Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, it had been prepared for “a couple of months,” a senior US officer told AFP, suggesting resistance attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

    Then, late on Sunday evening, two more explosions hit the US-led force's main compound in Baghdad, Aljazeera's correspondent said. Local residents said Katyusha rockets had been fired from the southern suburb of al-Dura.

    Tight security

    Unconfirmed reports said among those injured in the morning attack were US Defence Department employees. 

    Wolfowitz and other senior aides were staying on the 12th floor when the building was attacked at about 0300 GMT. The rockets destroyed rooms below the 12th floor.

    Witnesses said Wolfowitz, one of Washington’s most irrepressible hawks, looked composed as security forces led him away from the hotel.

    The hotel is in an area sealed off with heavy security inside the centre of the occupation coalition's operations.

    “There were 40 rockets total, 29 of them were fired and 11 rockets were left in the home-made rocket launcher,” the officer said, without saying how many had hit the hotel”

    Unidentified US army officer

    Six to eight rockets struck the landmark building when rockets soared over the cement barricade walls meant to seal off the headquarters from resistance fighters waging war on US forces.
      
    A number of holes adorned the hotel's western side between the second and tenth floors.

    Rocket launcher

    The attack occurred after a white truck carrying three people pulled up to the Zawra park nearly 400m from the building and deposited a trailer.

    Inside was hidden a homemade rocket launcher disguised as a generator, a US officer told AFP, citing the military's initial reports.
      
    The rebels left the trailer after having primed a timing device which fired the rockets three to five minutes later, he said.
      
    “There were 40 rockets total, 29 of them were fired and 11 rockets were left in the home-made rocket launcher,” the officer said.

    “It was a combination of 85 and 68-millimetre rockets,” he added. 

    Increasing sophistication
      
    Sixty-eight-millimetre (2.7 inch) calibre rockets are usually fired from helicopters and 85-millimetre (3.3 inch) rockets are normally fired surface-to-air, he said.
      
    The attack, on the eve of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, coincided with the first day without night curfew in the city since Baghdad fell to the Americans six months ago.

    Yesterday, only hours after Wolfowitz departed Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, resistance fighters downed a US Black Hawk helicopter, using a rocket-propelled grenade. 
      
    The US army has said insurgents are raiding abandoned weapons dumps, a legacy of Saddam's regime, stocking up on armaments ranging from rockets to mortars.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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