At least 11 people died today when a suspected truck bomb exploded outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. It was the first time an Arab political symbol has been targeted in the Iraqi capital since the U.S. occupation.
Prague, 7 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A suspected truck bomb exploded outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad today, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens. Iraqi police Captain Ahmad Suleiman says that the dead were all outside the compound. One of the outer walls of the compound collapsed in the explosion. Several burned-out cars were strewn on the street. A building inside the complex was slightly damaged.
The commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, said the attack was the biggest against a civilian target since the end of the war. Replying to a question whether it was the most significant attack of its sort, he said: "Most significant attack on a soft target? Well, we've had other soft targets that have been attacked in the past few weeks very effectively. We've had some NGOs that were attacked and had people killed in them, so in terms of casualties, yes, I'd probably say so."
Jordan condemned the bombing as a cowardly terrorist attack. Reuters quoted Jordanian Information Minister Nabil al-Sharif as saying the attack will not divert Amman from its "path of support and aid" to the Iraqi people. He said no Jordanian Embassy staff are believed to have been killed. The Jordanian consul is reported to have been wounded.
News agencies say a number of Iraqis entered the compound after the blast, destroying the Jordanian flag and ripping up pictures of King Abdullah.
There has been a recent upsurge in violence in the Iraqi capital. Elsewhere in Baghdad today U.S. troops exchanged gunfire with attackers in a battle which left one bystander dead and an American military Humvee vehicle in flames. The U.S. Army today also said that two of its soldiers and an interpreter were killed last night.
So far no one has claimed responsibility for the embassy attack. Until now most of the attacks in Baghdad have been carried out by suspected loyalists of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, targeting coalition forces or their supporters. In contrast, the attack on the embassy may have been carried out by opponents of Hussein who believe that the Jordanian government has been too supportive of the former regime.
The blast came a week after Jordan announced it had granted asylum to Hussein's eldest daughters.
Hala Jabber, a Middle East expert, author, and journalist for the London-based "Sunday Times," said she believes that some Iraqis may be angry that Jordan did not support Iraq militarily.
"There are some Iraqis that have some resentment toward the Jordanians because of, if you want, their pre-war stance or the fact that even though it declared that it was anti-war on the other hand it assisted the Americans and allowed them to use Jordan as some base or another if not purely as an invading post but for other logistics reasons," Jabber said.
But Jabber said the motive may be that Jordan has recently imposed travel restrictions on Iraqis entering their country where there were none before.
"There could be resentment because a lot of Iraqis now are being prohibited or banned from crossing into Jordan," Jabber said. "Their passports are not being accepted, there are all sorts of legal issues going on whereas in the past it was one of the countries they could actually nip over to and have a break or from where they could travel somewhere else."
She said the attack was puzzling because Jordan was one of the countries helping Iraq most with humanitarian needs.
"I'm not quite sure, at this point in time, whether this was a direct target against the Jordanian Embassy, in other words against the Jordanians, and therefore there's a political message there given the fact that Jordan also is contributing massively and providing a lot of assistance and help to the Iraqi people at the moment," she said.
Jabber thinks it will become clear over the next few days whether the attack was the work of an individual or small group or whether it is the beginning of a concerted series of violence aimed at the Jordanian government. The possibility that the Jordanian Embassy was simply a target of convenience also cannot be precluded.