Archive for Saturday, November 19, 2005

Suicide attacks on mosques, hotel kill scores in Iraq

November 19, 2005

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— For the second time in a month, Western journalists were a target. And for the second time, the attack failed.

The tactic in the assault against the Hamra compound was the same as in the Oct. 24 assault on the Palestine hotel. One car bomber blew a hole in a protective wall so a second vehicle could penetrate the defenses and strike at the hotel.

But the tactic didn't work Friday. The second vehicle - a water tanker - apparently got stuck in the debris and exploded before reaching the target. At the Palestine, a hail of U.S. gunfire and concertina wire kept the vehicle far from the building when it exploded.

Still, eight Iraqis died around the Hamra compound - some in apartment houses ripped down by the blast.

"To be in the middle of this - not a pleasant experience," NBC News correspondent Mike Boettcher, who was in the Hamra, told the "Today" show. "But I feel a lot more sorry for those people who were killed just outside our compound, who didn't have that blast wall to protect them. That saved our lives."

The death toll Friday was far higher in Khanaqin, a sleepy, mostly Kurdish town of ramshackle commercial buildings and mud-brick houses 90 miles northeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border.

Suicide bombers wandered into two Shiite mosques during noon prayers and detonated explosives hidden beneath their clothes. At least 74 people were killed and about 100 were wounded, according to the local hospital.

A U.S. soldier, right, secures the area where two car bombs detonated Friday in a central Baghdad, Iraq, residential neighborhood, killing at least six people and injuring 43 more between an Interior Ministry building and a hotel occupied by foreign journalists.

A U.S. soldier, right, secures the area where two car bombs detonated Friday in a central Baghdad, Iraq, residential neighborhood, killing at least six people and injuring 43 more between an Interior Ministry building and a hotel occupied by foreign journalists.

At sunset, hours after the nearly simultaneous bombings, dozens of people were still searching for relatives and friends. Others collected shredded copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

'Filled with dead bodies'

One survivor, Omar Saleh, said he was on his knees bowing in prayer when the bomb exploded at the town's Grand Mosque.

"The roof fell on us and the place was filled with dead bodies," Saleh, 73, said from his hospital bed.

The blasts ripped down part of the Grand Mosque's roof and heavily damaged the Sheik Murad mosque about a half mile away.

The attack in Khanaqin was ominous because it took place in a largely peaceful area about six miles from Iran. So few incidents have occurred there Iraqi authorities believe they can soon take over security responsibilities from the U.S.-led coalition. That assumption has now been called into question.

It was the deadliest attack since Sept. 29, when three suicide car bombers struck in the mostly Shiite town of Balad just north of Baghdad, killing at least 99 people.

American soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division sent medical specialists and supplies to Khanaqin.

The latest attacks in Khanaqin and Baghdad have brought to at least 1,617 the number of Iraqis killed in suicide attacks since the Shiite-led government took power April 28, according to an Associated Press count. At least 3,429 have been wounded.

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