Faceless attackers appeared to be escalating their campaign of violence in Iraq, with military officials on Monday reporting seven attacks that killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded 11 other coalition troops. The bloodshed came a day after a deadly car bomb explosion outside the Baghdad Hotel in the Iraqi capital killed at least a half-dozen bystanders and wounded dozens more.
The attackers also appeared to be growing increasingly bold.
Iraqi guerrillas ambushed a U.S. military convoy northeast of Baghdad on Monday, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding two others, the U.S. military said.
A spokesman said the soldier from the 4th Infantry Division died when his convoy was ambushed with a roadside bomb and small arms fire in the town of Jalawla, 75 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Earlier Monday, an unknown assailant fired a rocket-propelled grenade about 1 p.m. in downtown Tikrit, killing a U.S. soldier on patrol in a Bradley fighting vehicle, NBC News correspondent Kevin Sites reported.
The U.S. military also said an American soldier was killed in a land mine explosion and a second was slightly wounded in Beiji, 120 miles north of Baghdad and about 30 miles from Tikrit. The soldiers, from the Bravo Company of the Task Force 366 Armored Battalion, were on a patrol around 9 p.m. Saturday when their vehicle struck the mine, said Capt. Craig Childs, of the 1-22nd Infantry Regiment.
On Sunday, two U.S. military police were slightly injured in a blast, apparently from a roadside bomb, just outside the main U.S. Army base in Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad. Another soldier was wounded when his convoy came under small-arms and grenade attack 60 miles south of the northern city of Kirkuk.
Separately, four British soldiers were slightly injured Monday in two separate explosions in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the British military said. British military spokesman Capt. Hisham Halawi said both incidents were under investigation but would provide no further details. According to local residents, the first explosion occurred as a vehicle was passing near a gas station on the outskirts of Basra. One soldier was hurt. The three others were slightly injured in a second explosion, which occurred an hour later near a British military camp, Halawi said without elaboration. It was unclear whether the blasts were caused by roadside bombs, which coalition forces refer to as “improvised explosive devices.”
FATAL BOMBING IN BAGHDAD
The attack outside the Baghdad Hotel on Sunday was the seventh fatal vehicle bombing in Iraq since early August. The bombings have killed more than 140 people.
“We will work with the Iraqi police to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” Iraq’s U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said after Sunday’s bombing. So far, none of the planners of the previous bombings has been found.
Two cars exploded nearly simultaneously on Sunday, but military spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo said Monday it was unclear whether the second car was part of the attack or if its fuel tank had been ignited by the first blast.
Some witnesses said they saw two cars speeding toward the hotel moments before the explosion.
The Pentagon said gunfire from Iraqi guards and U.S. personnel aborted the plan to hit the hotel, home to officials of the U.S.-led occupation authority in Baghdad and reportedly some members of Iraq’s interim Governing Council.
At least one guard was reported among the six bystanders dead; the two drivers also were presumed killed, but was not clear if one or both were suicide attackers. One member of the 25-seat Governing Council, Mouwafak al-Rabii, told Al-Jazeera satellite television he suffered a slight hand injury.
At al-Kindi Hospital in Baghdad, Dr. Ahmed Mustafa said his facility was treating 32 wounded, and that four were in critical condition.
The lunchtime attack sent terror-stricken Iraqis fleeing up Saadoun Avenue, over broken window glass from banks, restaurants and shops and past the bloodied bodies of injured. American helicopters and combat vehicles converged on the chaotic scene as black smoke from burning cars billowed over the central city.
The United States denounced the attack. “We condemn this vicious act of terrorism in the strongest possible terms,” said Amanda Batt, a State Department spokeswoman.
But along Saadoun Avenue, feelings ran high against the Americans and their inability to stop the bombings. “Hey! Hey! This regime’s a failure!” a group chanted in Arabic at a group of U.S. soldiers as the fires raged.
It was the second big car bombing in the capital in the last week. A suicide bomber hit a police station in the northeastern Shiite Muslim slum known as Sadr City on Thursday, killing at least 10 people, including the bomber.
BARRIERS ERECTED RECENTLY
Saad Hamid, 41, a shopkeeper, said police caught a car bomber at the same spot six weeks ago before he could detonate his explosive. Authorities then erected a blast wall at the end of the street. The force of the explosion Sunday blew over at least one section of the wall.
Bricks were hurled to the third floor of nearby buildings.
Sevan Armin, 33, said a car approached the Baghdad Hotel on the wrong side of the street. “It was traveling at high speed. The guards at the gate fired on it. The car hit the concrete blast barrier and exploded.” Armin had a minor head injury.
“The car was in front of us, a 1990 Toyota Corolla,” said Sabah Ghulam, 37. “He suddenly turned into the hotel. ... A policeman shot at him four times, and then there was the explosion.”
The Baghdad Hotel is located at the end of a busy street, but the blast did not appear to breach the interior of the building, NBC’s Tom Aspell reported from the Iraqi capital.
The blast rattled windows in the Palestine Hotel, home to many journalists covering the aftermath of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
SERIES OF ATTACKS
InsertArt(2040178)The blast was the latest in a series of attacks aimed at non-military Western targets in Iraq, which the United States blames on guerrillas resisting the U.S.-led occupation.
The most recent was Thursday’s Sadr City bombing. Last month, a suicide car bomber struck a police checkpoint outside U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing an Iraqi policeman who stopped him and wounding 19 people. The driver was trying to enter the U.N. compound at the Canal Hotel, where a truck bomb Aug. 19 killed 23 people, including the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
On Aug, 29 a car bomb exploded in the holy city of Najaf, killing Shiite Muslim leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and more than 80 others. It was the single deadliest attack under the U.S.-led occupation.
A bomb was also detonated outside a hotel used by NBC News, killing a security guard.
IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslim pilgrims concluded a weekend of religious celebration in the holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad. The festival was peaceful despite a fiery Friday sermon by hard-line cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who railed against the U.S. occupation and announced formation of his own Islamic “government.”
Members of a visiting U.S. congressional delegation expressed American determination to stick it out in Iraq. “We are here to stay until these people are ready to take over,” said Rep. H. James Saxton, R-N.J., referring to members of Iraqi security forces with whom the delegation met.
A man claiming to speak for an Iraqi resistance group warned in a compact-disc recording against foreign troops joining U.S.-led occupation forces, saying they will be treated as occupiers and provoke attacks on their home countries.
A statement signed by the same unknown group, “The Jihad Brigades of Imam Ali bin Abi-Taleb,” promised to kill every member of the Governing Council and Iraqis who cooperate with the occupation. It was impossible to verify the authenticity of the statement or the recording.
(NBC’s Tom Aspell in Baghdad and Kevin Sites in Tikrit, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.)