Four contractors killed in attack on Green Zone

/ Source: The Associated Press

A rocket attack on Iraq’s heavily fortified Green Zone killed four foreign contractors working for the U.S. government, the American Embassy said Thursday. It was the third straight day that extremists used rockets or mortars to hit the area where Iraq’s parliament meets.

The embassy said two of the contractors were from India, one was from Nepal and one from the Philippines.

Wednesday was the third straight day that the U.S.-controlled area in central Baghdad — home to the U.S. and British embassies and thousands of American troops — was hit by rockets or mortars.

The embassy said Wednesday’s attack left it “with a profound sense of sadness and regret” over the loss of the contractors who “were integral members of our embassy community.”

The brief statement provided no other details about the attack, including the time or location of the explosion in the Green Zone, which is home to the U.S. and British embassies and thousands of American troops. Such information often is withheld to avoid giving extremists information for future attacks.

The whistle of rockets
However, the whistle of suspected rockets had been heard passing over the Tigris River in central Baghdad and into the Green Zone on Wednesday evening.

In other violence in Iraq on Wednesday, a suicide car bomber struck in the main Shiite district of the capital, killing at least nine people.

Three more U.S. soldiers were killed by bombs in the capital, where the U.S. military said its troop buildup was nearly complete. At least 3,354 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. Last month, at least 104 U.S. service members died — the highest monthly figure since December.

At least 85 Iraqis were killed or found dead nationwide Wednesday, police reported. Those included eight people who lost their lives when a roadside bomb destroyed their minibus about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Insurgents and militia fighters routinely fire rockets and mortars into the Green Zone, a sprawling complex which is surrounded with tall cement blast walls on the west bank of the Tigris, but the attacks seldom cause casualties or damage because they are poorly aimed and the zone contains much open space.

But two Americans — a contractor and a soldier — were killed in late March in a rocket attack on the area and two suicide vests were found unexploded less than a week after that.

Security called into question
The adequacy of security in the vast area in central Baghdad more recently came into question after the April 12 suicide bombing in the Iraqi parliament building’s dining hall. One lawmaker was killed in the blast, which was claimed by an al-Qaida-led amalgam of Sunni insurgents.

On Wednesday, Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a U.S. military spokesman, told a news conference that the latest round of Green Zone attacks appears to be part of an overall strategy by extremists “to score a spectacular hit or try to obtain some sort of a headline-grabbing direct hit.”

In response to the killings, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called for a quick reassessment of whether Filipino workers in Iraq should return home.

Arroyo also ordered diplomatic and labor officials to immediately bring home the bodies of the contractors, her spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said.

“The president is saddened at the news,” Bunye said.

The Philippines banned deployment of workers to Iraq after insurgents abducted a Filipino truck driver in July 2004. To save his life, Arroyo granted the kidnappers’ demand for the early withdrawal of a small Philippine peacekeeping contingent from Iraq — a decision strongly criticized by Washington and other allies, but applauded at home.

A Filipino accountant also was abducted by Iraqi militants. He was freed in June 2005 after almost eight months.

Despite the ban, many Filipino workers are believed to have slipped into Iraq through neighboring countries such as Jordan, prompting the government to appeal to those countries to help block such passage.