Baghdad, Iraq The New Year's Eve car bombing of an upscale Baghdad restaurant, which killed eight people, was a sign that opponents of the U.S.-led occupation forces may be shifting to civilian targets, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday.
The so-called "hard targets" in Baghdad -- like coalition complexes and Iraqi police stations -- are increasingly well guarded, pushing insurgents toward soft targets, like Nabil Restaurant, said a U.S. military officer with the 1st Armored Division. He spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"When terrorists can target coalition forces or Iraqi police," they will, said Lt. Gen. Ahmed Kadhem, deputy Iraqi interior minister and Baghdad chief of police. "If they can't, they go to an easier target, aiming at civilians."
He said security was being increased around hospitals and government buildings and called on schools to put up checkpoints and keep cars off their campuses.
Assailants have previously bombed civilian targets, including the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Both organizations pulled most of their foreign staff out of Iraq after those deadly attacks.
In a city where sandbagged checkpoints, cement barriers and armed guards protect many potential targets, the Nabil Restaurant was easy prey.
Situated on a busy street in the upscale Karrada neighborhood, it was protected by a lone armed guard and had no cement barriers or sandbags to shield wealthy patrons from the blast of the car bomb that detonated Wednesday night as Iraqis and Westerners celebrated.
Col. Ralph Baker, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, said the blast was caused by a car booby-trapped with about 500 pounds of explosives. He said reports that it was a suicide bomb attack were false, and that they had questioned witnesses who said they saw a man running from a vehicle before the explosion.
Iraqi witnesses were cooperating with the investigation in the attack "clearly carried out by people who don't want us here, don't want the country rebuilt," he said.
Iraqi police pulled four bodies from the rubble in the immediate aftermath of the blast and American soldiers later found another four bodies in the shattered restaurant, said Lt. Col. Peter Jones of the 1st Armored Division, which is responsible for security in Baghdad. All the dead were Iraqis.
The attack on Nabil was the latest in a string of bombings in Baghdad.
Earlier Wednesday evening, a bomb hidden in shrubs outside another Baghdad restaurant exploded as a U.S. military convoy passed, wounding three American soldiers and three Iraqi civilians, the military said. Iraqi bystanders said one Iraqi was killed.
Also Wednesday, a roadside bomb apparently aimed at a U.S. military convoy killed an 8-year-old Iraqi boy. Three American soldiers suffered minor injuries. A similar attack on a main thoroughfare on Tuesday killed an Iraqi civilian.
Another roadside bomb killed two Iraqi children and an American soldier on Sunday in central Baghdad.