A suicide car bomb killed 13 people, including five foreigners, in central Baghdad yesterday as insurgents stepped up attacks aimed at driving foreign contractors out of the country.
The explosion, in Tahrir Square in the centre of Baghdad, hit a convoy of vehicles carrying power workers and security guards. Two Britons, an American and a Frenchman were among the dead and another 10 contractors were wounded.
“I am a grocer and I was in the square buying provisions when I saw three or four American cars and then I heard the explosion,” said Majid Sadullah as he sat, still trembling from shock, on a bed in a nearby hospital and bleeding from cuts caused by flying metal.
The blast destroyed eight vehicles and turned nearby shops and a two-storey house into rubble. “Three people died here, including two Sudanese whose legs were amputated by the blast, and 14 were wounded,” said Captain Issam at the neurological hospital, one of those to which casualties were taken.
In a sign of the unpopularity of the US-led occupation among Iraqis, a crowd spontaneously gathered after the bombing and danced in delight around a charred body lying in the road. The dancers chanted “America is the enemy of God” and “Death to America.” They hammered and kicked at two damaged American vehicles and later set them ablaze.
Foreign contractors are being targeted with increasing frequency and many have left the country. Three of the foreigners who died yesterday worked for Granite Services Inc, a subsidiary of General Electric. The two others were private security guards.
“These people were helping Iraq rebuild its power generating stations,” said Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, condemning the attack in an angry speech yesterday. The continuing shortage of electrical power in Baghdad is a main complaint by Iraqis about the occupation. “Demand in the city is 2,200 megawatts and supply is only 1,400,” said Raad al-Hares, the acting Electricity Minister yesterday. As the summer temperature soars towards 120F, the use of air conditioning and consumption of electricity climbs accordingly.
Foreign workers in their four-wheel-drive vehicles are easily identifiable in Baghdad. The resistance has evidently identified them as soft targets, easier to kill or kidnap than regular US troops. A week ago, gunmen killed two Americans and two Polish security guards on the vital airport road. The foreign workers who remain are difficult and expensive to guard. Insurgents have also started using small, easy-to-use, time bombs, with a magnet underneath which can be attached to a vehicle in a few seconds, The Independent has learnt. The Iraqi police found 35 such bombs in the first week of June.
Some of these bombs are believed to have been found attached to vehicles inside the heavily protected “Green Zone”, the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). All vehicles now have to be searched before use.
The CPA may have committed a serious blunder by taking over Saddam Hussein’s former headquarters complex beside the Tigris, when it was established over a year ago. The entrances to the Green Zone have been shown to be insecure and the compound is hit by mortar shells or rockets almost every night.
Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, the interim Iraqi President, reportedly asked President George Bush to abandon plans to use Saddam’s former Republican Palace to house the new US Embassy, with 1,000 staff. Mr Yawar wants to use it to house the new Iraqi government after the transfer of sovereignty on 30 June.