Three massive vehicle bombs exploded today near the Palestine Hotel, home to many foreign journalists, killing at least 20 people.
Dramatic television pictures showed one of the bombers driving a cement truck through the concrete blast walls that guard the hotel then blowing up his vehicle.
Iraq’s national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaei, said the attack – which appeared well planned – was “very clear” effort to take over the hotel and take foreign and Arab journalists as hostages.
“Three cars came from three different roads, in succession to create security breaches for terrorists. They were armed with RPGs and light arms,” Rubaei told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“The plan was very clear to us, which was to take security control over the two hotels, and to take the foreign and Arab journalists as hostages to use them as a bargain”
The security adviser said at least 40 people were injured, most of them passers-by.
Three AP Television News personnel inside the hotel sustained minor injuries.
Another official, Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Kamal, said four or five Iraqi police were among the dead.
A US official in Washington said there were no deaths inside the hotel, which is home to foreign contractors as well as journalists.
The US military said no US troops were injured in the attacks.
Associated Press Television News pictures show the cement truck moving backward and forward a few times, with gunfire blasting away, before it made its way through an empty space in the blast wall along Firdous Square.
Shortly before the cement truck was detonated, two cars were exploded in rapid succession in apparent diversionary blasts.
One blew up behind the 14th Ramadan Mosque on the far side of the square and the second at a police post about half way around the traffic circle to where the cement truck was detonated.
Iraqi security officials said the explosions occurred two minutes apart late this afternoon, not long before Muslims marking Ramadan were preparing to break their day-long fast.
“Iraqi security forces and Coalition Forces are securing the area and bringing order to the bomb site,” the military said in a statement.
Glass was shattered, light fixtures were blown down and false ceilings were knocked off their hangers throughout the 19th story hotel, which is surrounded on all sides by thick concrete walls.
The hotel was last hit in an insurgent rocket attack on October 7, 2004.
The US military has a checkpoint at the only vehicle entrance on the opposite side of the hotel compound from Firdous Square, where a giant statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down after US troops captured Baghdad on April 9, 2003.
US soldiers maintain a presence inside the hotel compound.
Afterwards they increased their numbers on the perimeter of the 5-acre compound, which also includes the Sheraton Hotel.
There was considerable damage to the windows and rooms on the south side of the 19-story hotel.
TV pictures showed a huge cloud of smoke rising from the scene and debris falling from the building.
After the bombing, Iraqi forces opened up with heavy automatic weapons fire, apparently firing at random. There was no sign of a further assault on the hotel.
The Associated Press journalists had to evacuate their bureau in the hotel and take refuge in the smoke-filled corridor.