Prague, 27 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Four suicide bombers struck Baghdad today, killing 34 and sparking fear and chaos in the Iraqi capital as residents began the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
According to Iraqi police chief and Deputy Interior Minister Ahmad Ibrahim, 26 of the dead were civilians and eight were police officers. He said more than 200 people were wounded in the blasts.
In the most serious attack today, a car packed with explosives blew up near security barriers outside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC), killing at least 10 people.
A guard at the Red Cross facility who witnessed the bombing spoke with Radio Free Iraq correspondent Falah Hassan, who was on the scene. "The car came from this side," he said. "It was driving very quickly. The police guards noticed the car. It was an ambulance. The guards started to shoot [at the car]. So [the driver] crossed the security line and was aiming at the building, but he hit the electricity generator, which was outside the building."
U.S. General Mark Hertling told reporters that the vehicle used in the bombing may have had Red Crescent markings on it. "It looked like a panel van. Early indicators that we are receiving is that it actually had the Red Crescent markings on it," he said. "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 blast caused extensive damage inside the ICRC building. The front wall of the building was damaged and all of the windows shattered.
Antonella Notari, the chief spokeswoman for the ICRC in Geneva, said the organization is deeply shocked by the attack but would like to remain in Iraq. "We are determined to stay in Iraq," she said. "We know there is a need for the ICRC in Iraq. We've been in Iraq ever since 1980. We never left, even in the worst circumstances. We know that the Iraqi people need our presence."
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.
Three other vehicles also exploded in the Baghdad area today, all of them close to police stations. A police official in Baghdad says police foiled an attack on a fourth, killing one suspect bomber and wounding another. The official says unexploded ordnance was also found near a fire station in Baghdad.
An Iraqi police officer who witnessed one of the attacks on the police stations spoke with Radio Free Iraq correspondent Ali Il-Yase. "At 9 in the morning, a big, white land cruiser tried to hit the building. It was the same police station that U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary [Paul] Wolfowitz visited yesterday. Inside the car there was more than one man, not only the driver. Policemen started to shoot at the car. The attackers managed to escape, except the one who was injured. [The policemen] captured him and took him to the hospital. This was a terrorist attack, and we condemn it," the officer said.
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," he said.
U.S. Brigadier General Martin Dempsey told reporters yesterday that he did not believe 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," Dempsey said.
The Al-Rashid hotel is located in a high-security area of 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.
(RFE/RL's Iraqi Service, Radio Free Iraq, contributed to this story.)