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Iraq: Wolfowitz Reiterates U.S. Commitment After Hotel Attack

Efforts continue to rebuild a post-war Iraq despite ongoing attacks on U.S. troops. After being caught in a hotel attack today, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz maintains U.S. commitment.

Prague, 27 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Unknown attackers in Baghdad today fired what was described as a "barrage" of rockets on the hotel housing visiting U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Wolfowitz was unharmed in the attack, on central Baghdad's Al-Rashid Hotel. A U.S. military spokeswoman said one person was killed and 15 others were wounded. It wasn't immediately clear who launched the attack or whether Wolfowitz was the intended target.

Speaking to reporters after the attack, Wolfowitz blamed what he called "criminals" who are trying to destabilize Iraq in the wake of the U.S.-led war this spring that ousted Saddam Hussein from power.

"The criminals who are trying to destabilize this country abused and tortured Iraq for 35 years. And we have ended that mass oppression," Wolfowitz said. "There are a few who refuse to accept the reality of a new and free Iraq. We will be unrelenting in our pursuit of them."

He continued, "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, the number two man in the Pentagon behind Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was one of the main backers of the Iraq war. He is on the third day of a four-day tour of Iraq to assess progress, and yesterday visited the north-central city of Tikrit.

Reports said at least six rockets struck the heavily fortified Al-Rashid, which houses visiting U.S. officials and functions as one of the nerve centers of the U.S.-led Iraq administration.

Details were sketchy, but news agencies say more than 20 missiles in all were fired from an abandoned truck parked about 500 meters from the hotel. The missiles appear to have been launched by a pre-set timer. Several missiles misfired or missed their target.

The attack came just a couple of hours after the end of a nightly curfew, which is due to be lifted entirely in time for the start of the Muslim holy month, Ramadan, today.

In other incidents, some twelve American troops were injured in separate attacks over the weekend that saw a Blackhawk helicopter crash and come under fire near Tikrit while Wolfowitz was visiting troops.

Some 108 U.S. troops have been killed in combat incidents since major hostilities were declared over on 1 May.

Yesterday's rocket attack comes a day after the first large-scale antiwar demonstrations in the United States since May. Some 20,000 people marched in Washington and in San Francisco, demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.