A suicide bomber apparently targeting a meeting of U.S.-allied Sunni sheiks penetrated layers of security and blew himself up in a hotel lobby on Monday, killing four tribal leaders and at least eight others, police reported.
The sheiks were associated with the Anbar Salvation Council, which had taken up arms to help drive extremists of al-Qaida in Iraq from the western province of Anbar.
The attack was among a surge of five suicide and other bombings Monday that killed at least 45 people across Iraq. In an unrelated incident, the U.S. command reported a U.S. soldier shot to death Monday in south Baghdad or its outskirts.
The bombing at the high-rise Mansour Hotel, on the west bank of the Tigris River in central Baghdad, struck at about noon as the lobby bustled with members of news media organizations headquartered at the hotel and other guests, witnesses said.
A man wearing a belt of explosives walked into the lobby, approached the group of sheiks meeting there, and detonated his bomb, said a police officer based at the hotel, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He identified four tribal leaders killed as former Anbar governor Fassal al-Guood, sheik of the al-Bu Nimir tribe, Sheik Abdul-Azizi al-Fahdawi of the Fahad tribe, Sheik Tariq Saleh al-Assafi and Col. Fadil al-Nimrawi, both of the al-Bu Nimr tribe. Three of al-Guood’s guards also were killed, the police officer said.
Three checkpoints crossed
“It was a great breach of security because there are three checkpoints, one outside and two inside,” said Saif al-Rubaie, a 28-year-old hotel worker who saw the blast.
After the blast, a member of the Anbar Salvation Council said in the provincial capital of Ramadi that the sheiks meeting at the Mansour Hotel had been dropped from the council “because they did not continue working with us.” He said they had been meeting secretly with government officials, about unspecified matters.
The U.S. command here has pointed repeatedly to the Anbar group and its opposition to al-Qaida as an example for other tribes to follow elsewhere in Iraq.
Along with the 12 dead at the hotel, at least 21 people were reported wounded. The victim Al-Guood, a former Anbar governor, resided at the hotel, police said.
A noted Iraqi poet, Rahim al-Maliki, also was killed, said Iraqi Media Net, the government organization on whose television network al-Maliki appeared.
The Mansour, which also houses the Chinese Embassy and is the Baghdad home for a number of Iraqi parliament members, is just a half-mile from the heavily fortified International Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices are situated.
The attack was the fifth in a string of suicide and other bombings Monday morning, from Mosul and Beiji in the north to Hillah in the south. Two were aimed at U.S. targets.
Suicide bombers killed at least 13 Iraqi police officers in an attack on a joint U.S.-Iraqi security station in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military command said. At least nine other Iraqis were reported killed at the scene and 21 others were reported wounded. Five American soldiers also suffered minor wounds, said Lt. j.g. Karl Lettow, a U.S. command spokesman in Baghdad.
Initial police reports spoke of a single truck bomb, but the U.S. command later said two car bombs detonated about 8:20 a.m., damaging a police barracks and the outer wall of the joint station. That was followed by an attack by at least 30 insurgents firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, the command said.
Iraqi police and U.S. paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division repelled the attack, it said. The command statement said nothing about whether the reported nine dead civilians may have included insurgent casualties.
As one wounded Iraqi civilian told it, however, random gunfire erupted from the building after the blast.
“I was at the grocery market when the explosion occurred and I ran with others to the site to see if there were any casualties and I was shot by fire from the police station,” said Khalaf Salim, 40.
About 45 minutes later, another suicide car bomb exploded at a joint U.S.-Iraqi army checkpoint in central Siniyah, nine miles west of Beiji, killing two Iraqi soldiers and wounding three, an Iraqi army officer reported. There were no reported U.S. casualties.
Second Hillah blast in 3 days
Earlier in the morning, a suicide car bomber struck a checkpoint near the governor’s offices in the predominantly Shiite southern city of Hillah, killing at least eight people and wounding 31, police said.
It was the second such attack in Hillah in three days.
Three of the eight killed in the 6:30 a.m. explosion were policemen, as were at least four of the wounded, said a spokesman for the provincial police department.
Police officer Baha Abdul-Sadda, 21, said he saw a red sedan speeding toward the headquarters, surprising police at the checkpoint and on the building’s roof.
“The suicide bomber took advantage of the early hour and intended to hit the metal barrier to get inside to hit the building, but the car exploded prematurely at the metal barrier,” he said. Abdul-Sadda, who suffered a head injury when thrown against a wall by the blast, spoke from his hospital bed.
Hillah, the capital of Babil, has been the target of some of the deadliest car bomb attacks by suspected Sunni Muslim extremists in the four years of insurgency and sectarian killings in Iraq.
The fifth bomb was in a parked car that exploded in the center of the northern city of Mosul, killing one civilian and wounding 20 others, police Brig. Mohammed al-Wakaa said. He said there were no police or military targets at the site.
In other violence, two mortar rounds Monday morning struck Baghdad’s Fadhil district, a Sunni enclave in the central city, killing two civilians and wounding three others, police said.
Iraqi police and other authorities often speak only on condition of anonymity, because of concerns over personal security or because they are not authorized to divulge information.