RFE/RL's correspondent in Baghdad, Valentinas Mite, said Iraqi police and U.S. troops immediately sealed off the area around the explosion. He said the death toll from the blast could have been worse if the attack had occurred on a normal business day.
Mite noted that foreign journalists and others on official business often wait at the entrance gate for security checks before meeting U.S. military press officers and Iraqi government officials. But he added that today is a national holiday in Iraq, marking the 46th anniversary of the 1958 coup that killed Iraq's King Faisal II.
"It is a day off, but [the explosion] created in this area havoc and traffic jams. The American [military] presence [on the streets] of the city this morning was much, much bigger than it usually is in Baghdad," he said.
Mite spoke to one soldier in the Iraqi National Guard who witnessed the morning attack. The soldier identified himself only by his first name, Karrar. "A car with explosives came. Three of the National Guard were posted there and tried to stop it, but [the driver] did not stop," he said. "It came and then it exploded. It exploded at the gate of the checkpoint No. 2, near the convention center."
Another witness who identified himself as Muhammad told RFE/RL that he knew at least one Iraqi soldier who was killed. "He is one of my brother's friends. He died, here inside. He is Hassan Ali. He is 24 years old, and he is in the National Guard," the witness said.
The explosion has added to the concerns of the Iraqi administration, which is dealing with the execution of a Bulgarian hostage by Islamic militants. Bulgaria announced today that it would continue to keep about 500 troops in Karbala as part of a multinational brigade in Iraq.
Just hours before today's explosion, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert announced that her country has begun to withdraw its troops from Iraq in an apparent bid to placate militants who have threatened to kill a Filipino hostage.
"The Foreign Affairs Ministry is coordinating the pullout of the humanitarian contingent [from Iraq] with the Ministry of National Defense. As of today, our head count is down from 51 to 43," she said.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urged the Philippines to reconsider its decision and to refuse to give in to the demands of the militants. "First of all, we certainly noted the remarks," he said. "We're disappointed to see remarks like this at a time when Iraq is fighting for stability and peace."
There is no word on the fate of the Filipino hostage.