More than a dozen rockets fired from donkey carts slammed into Iraq’s Oil Ministry and two hotels today – in brazen coordinated strikes at Baghdad’s most heavily protected civilian sites.
Two other rocket launchers mounted on donkey carts were found within hours - one 30 yards from the Italian Embassy and another near the Academy of Fine Arts, both in the Waziriya neighbourhood.
Iraqi police and US troops were seen securing those weapons, which apparently had not been fired, and US soldiers were seen searching donkey carts on nearby streets.
One man was carried away bleeding from the Palestine Hotel, where many foreign journalists and US workers are staying. No other casualties were reported at the Palestine or the Sheraton Hotel across the street.
Elsewhere, a US soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division was killed and two were injured near the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded next to their convoy, the military said today.
The Baghdad attacks occurred at the height of Operation Iron Hammer, the US military counter-offensive against rebels in and around the capital.
The rocket attacks appeared intended to demonstrate that the operation has not defeated the rebels.
Nobody claimed responsibility and there were no immediate reports of arrests.
The attacks both happened at about 7:20 am. At least eight rockets were fired at the Oil Ministry, but only two of them detonated, Colonel Peter Mansoor of the US 1st Armoured Division said.
The ministry was closed today for the Muslim day of prayer and no injuries were reported there. A ministry official told Dow Jones Newswires that a fire was quickly extinguished and caused no major damage to the building. He said oil production would not be affected.
Mansoor said one rocket hit the Palestine Hotel, but at least five rocket holes could be seen on the eighth, 15th and 16th floors of the 18-storey structure. Another rocket hit the Sheraton.
Ziyad, a 25-year-old Iraqi man who was staying with his bride, Rownaq, at the Palestine for their wedding night was two doors down from one of the areas hit on the 15th floor.
“We were sleeping when we heard the sound of a rocket,” he said. “This is our wedding present.”
At least one man was injured at the Palestine Hotel, and was carried away by US military medics on a stretcher. He was bleeding from his head. Mansoor confirmed one injury, but did not know the
man's nationality or more details about him.
Iraqi police spokesman Amar Arshad said the launcher had the capacity to fire 30 rockets. It was unclear how many were launched, but five unfired rockets sat in the launcher.
Mansoor said another rocket-launcher, also on a donkey cart, was found near the Oil Ministry.
Witnesses reported hearing five explosions at the ministry, and thick black smoke poured from the heavily guarded compound. Fire trucks moved about the grounds.
The Sheraton and Palestine hotels once belonged to international chains, but both are operated by Iraqis.
The hotels are among the best-protected in Baghdad, with several security checkpoints on the approaches, blast barriers on surrounding streets and US armoured personnel carriers stationed outside.
They stand in front of Firdaus Square, where Iraqis famously toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein on April 9.