Mideast Bombings

Mideast Bombings

Mideast Bombings

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 20 2003 8:43 AM

Mideast Bombings

Everybody leads with yesterday's suicide bomb truck attack against the U.N.'s headquarters in Baghdad in which at least 20 people were killed and 100 injured. Among the dead from the massive explosion was the U.N.'s top representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all include in their banner headlines yesterday's other suicide bombing, on a bus in Jerusalem, in which at least 19 people were killed, including at least five children, and more than 100 were injured.

The attack on the U.N. compound seems to have been very sophisticated: A truck filled with about 500-pounds of advanced explosives (C-4) crashed into a security wall right below Vieira de Mello's office. The blast demolished that portion of the building and caused the roof to collapse at an Iraqi hospital next door. Here's a video—linked by the LAT—that happened to be recording at the U.N. HQ as the blast went off. (Warning: It is graphic.)

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Nobody claimed responsibility for the bombing, the deadliest attack ever on U.N. personnel,and nobody knows yet who was behind it. "We don't have that kind of evidence yet," said de facto Iraq police chief Bernie Kerik.

Everybody mentions al-Qaida knock-offs Ansar al-Islam as the most likely perpetrators; though, again, there isn't specific information pointing to them. Meanwhile, a piece in the New York Times briefly mentions that Ansar al-Islam, like al-Qaida, might not be the single, cohesive group many assume.

Apart from the bombing, it is increasingly likely that jihad-types are operating in Iraq. One U.S. officer told the Wall Street Journal that over the past week the military has arrested "at least a dozen people with clear connections to al-Qaida." Meanwhile, Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer accused Syria of letting militants cross into Iraq.

USAT notes that the U.N. worker's union asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to withdraw from Iraq until things stabilize. Reuters briefly reported this morning that there would be an evacuation, though Annan strongly suggested today that there won't be a mass withdrawal: "We will not be intimidated."

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The Post and Journal both ponder the possibility that the bombing and other attacks on civilian targets could backfire and actually increase support for the U.S. and its fight against the guerrillas.

According to early-morning reports, four GIs were wounded this morning by a roadside bomb near Tikrit.

Everybody has obits on Vieira de Mello, who was also the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights and was a "major star" (WP) who had been viewed as a "viewed as a potential successor to Annan."

Everybody mentions that Kurds yesterday captured Iraq's former vice president and handed him over to U.S. forces. The former vice prez, apparently not a nice man, was known by the nickname "Saddam's knuckles." In the last few years, though, he had fallen out of favor with his boss and wasn't considered to have significant power.

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Hamas and Islamic Jihad both claimed responsibility for the bus attack in Jerusalem, which happened just as Israeli officials had been relaxing some of their demands of Palestinians. As the NYT notices, Hamas "political leaders" in Gaza denied responsibility for the attack; instead a local cell in Hebron claimed credit. Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas reps said they still stand by the cease-fire and said the attack was onetime revenge for the killing of some of their groups' leaders, including for one killing that happened back in June, before the cease-fire took effect. The NYT says residents of Hebron celebrated the bombing with fireworks.

Israel last night broke off contact with Palestinian officials and imposed a travel cordon. "No Palestinian can enter Israel," said an Israeli spokesman. Meanwhile, according to the LAT and WP, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas broke off talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and aides said he will take as yet unspecified punitive actions against the groups.

USAT and the LAT symbolically link yesterday's two attacks in their headlines, giving one casualty count for both bombings. As USAT puts it: "MIDEAST ERUPTS: BOMBS KILL 38 IN BAGHDAD, JERUSALEM." The NYT does the most to keep the events apart, not including the Jerusalem bombing in its lead headline and instead putting it in the off-lead.

The NYT, which has a reporter in Afghanistan now, notes that insurgents there killed nine police officers in an attack yesterday; it's the latest in a series of such strikes this past week.

The LAT and NYT both note that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, visiting Colombia yesterday, said the U.S. will support Colombia resuming a policy that allows the shooting-down of suspected drug planes. Such policies were suspended across Latin American after Peru, aided by U.S. intel, mistakenly shot down an American missionary plane in 2001.