Prague, 27 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Five suicide bombings rocked Baghdad today, killing at least 34 people and wounding at least 200 more, international media reported. The explosions -- which took place within 45 minutes of each other -- sparked fear and chaos in the Iraqi capital as residents began the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Twenty-six of the 34 killed were civilians.
In the most serious attack, a car packed with explosives blew up near security barriers outside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC). U.S. General Mark Hertling told reporters that the attack was a suicide bombing.
"A vehicle-borne explosive device attempted to get close to the International Red Cross/International Red Crescent building," Hertling said. "It was stopped by the Iraqi [Facility] Protection Service and the Iraqi police and the suicide bomber decided that he wouldn't try and get closer, so he touched off the bomb away from the building."
Hertling said up to 10 Iraqis were killed and about 10 injured in the explosion. He said the vehicle used in the bombing may have had Red Cross markings on it. "It looked like a panel van," he said. "Early indicators that we are receiving is that it actually had the Red Crescent markings on it. So they were using a Red Crescent/Red Cross truck, a humanitarian-aid truck, to do this, and it looks like some of the other cars that were damaged were also Red Cross vehicles."
The ICRC expressed deep shock at the bombing, calling it a "deliberate" attack.
Witnesses said the blast caused extensive damage inside the ICRC building. The front wall of the building was damaged and all of the windows shattered.
ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani said: "We always believed we were protected by the humanitarian work we do. We always believed that our presence here since 1980 showed our complete neutrality. If this attack has an impact on our activities, it will again be the Iraqis who suffer."
The ICRC cut its foreign staff in Iraq from more than 100 to about 30 last summer after a series of attacks on humanitarian workers in Baghdad.
Four other vehicles also exploded in the Baghdad area today. Two of the blasts were close to police stations.
Referring to one of the incidents, Hertling said a car bomb exploded outside a police station in the city's Karkh district, killing up to eight Iraqi soldiers and wounding 10 U.S. soldiers.
Today's bombings followed yesterday's mortar attack against the Al-Rashid hotel in the center of Baghdad. One U.S. soldier was killed and 17 other coalition personnel were wounded in that attack.
In comments last night, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that the U.S. did not expect such a long and intense period of anti-U.S. strikes in Iraq:
"We didn't expect [the resistance in Iraq] would be quite this intense this long. But [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz was greeted as a liberator when he went north [in Iraq]. I was greeted as a liberator when I went north and in the parts of the country that I visited when I was there about a month or so ago," Powell said.
Wolfowitz, who was staying at the Al-Rashid at the time, was not injured. Speaking shortly after the incident, he said the attack will not deter the United States from its mission to stabilize and democratize Iraq.
"This terrorist act will not deter us from completing our mission, which is to help the Iraqi people to free themselves from the type of criminal who did this and to protect the American people from this kind of terrorism," Wolfowitz said.
U.S. Brigadier General Martin Dempsey told reporters yesterday that he did not believe that Wolfowitz was the target of the attack, which he said likely took months to plan. "There's no question, [the attack] required some degree of preparation -- probably lasting over a couple of months, would be my estimation," he said.
The Al-Rashid hotel is located in a high-security area in Baghdad and is used by U.S. military and coalition personnel.
In a separate development, a U.S. military spokesman said three U.S. soldiers were killed in separate attacks yesterday in Baghdad. That brings to 112 the number of U.S. soldiers who have been killed by hostile fire in Iraq since U.S. President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations on 1 May.