Launch Rocket, Mortar Strikes
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Rebels
unleashed a string of grenade, rocket and mortar attacks in Baghdad
before dawn on Christmas Day, hitting a hotel housing foreigners
for the second time in as many days and targeting two banks, several
embassies and a U.S. Army base.
Thursday night, several explosions were heard in central Baghdad,
and sirens sounded in the Green Zone, a barricaded area that houses
the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition governing Iraq (news
- web sites). A U.S. military spokeswoman said there were "two
to three impacts in the vicinity of the Green Zone," but
no casualties were reported.
The morning's strikes on prominent targets had more symbolic than
military impact; two civilians — a woman and her daughter
sleeping in an apartment — were injured, and damage was
U.S. forces had increased security in the capital following threats
of attacks over Christmas, but the strikes showed how easily small
bands of rebels operate under cover of night in the city center,
and then slip away. They were a blow to American efforts to restore
a sense of normalcy in a city where few people venture out after
dark, for fear of violence.
At the same time, the furtive, hit-and-run operations revealed
the inability of rebels to confront the superior firepower of
U.S. soldiers. They also inflicted far less damage than attacks
by suicide bombers in recent months that killed dozens of people
at embassies, police stations and the United Nations (news - web
sites) headquarters in Baghdad.
Such targets are now more heavily defended and harder to hit.
There are also fewer "soft" targets, with the United
Nations pulling out foreign staffers and many foreign aid workers
also departing because of security concerns.
The Christmas violence came after assailants conducted the deadliest
attacks since the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein (news - web
sites), triggering a series of explosions Wednesday that killed
four U.S. soldiers, six civilians and a suicide bomber. The suicide
attack was in Irbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq.
Also Thursday, distant explosions were heard before dawn and after
dusk in Baghdad as the U.S. military bombarded suspected rebel
The 19-story Ishtar Sheraton Hotel was hit on Christmas Eve and
Christmas morning, the first time by a mortar shell that exploded
harmlessly against a wall on an upper floor, and then by a rocket-propelled
grenade that crashed through the atrium.
There were no injuries, but the attacks on the high-profile target
on the east bank of the Tigris River ensured intense coverage
by foreign journalists jolted from their desks and beds in the
Sheraton and the neighboring Palestine Hotel by the blasts.
One grenade, apparently intended for the Sheraton, crashed through
a bedroom wall in an apartment building across the street, detonating
and inflicting shrapnel wounds on a woman and her 20-year-old
daughter. "It's a miracle," Zaid al-Khalil, the woman's
husband, said of their survival.
After that attack, U.S. soldiers investigating the area found
leaflets warning Iraqis to stay home, said Army Lt. Kurt Muniz
of New York City. The leaflets warned U.S. forces to leave the
country and Iraqi police to stop working with foreign occupiers.
A U.S. military spokeswoman said the attacks included "three
or four impacts" inside the Green Zone, a barricaded area
containing the Republican Palace and other buildings occupied
by the U.S.-led administration. Just outside the zone, rockets
and grenades hit the Iranian and Turkish embassies, but did not
penetrate the buildings.
Another projectile hit an office building behind the German Embassy,
blasting an empty second-floor suite. A mortar shell struck a
police station in southern Baghdad, but caused no injuries, the
Attackers also blew holes in Baghdad's Rasheed and Rafidain banks,
police said. No money was stolen. One rocket hit the Baghdad City
Council building, shattering windows.
In other early morning attacks, rebels fired five grenades apparently
intended for the Baghdad Hotel near the Sheraton, but all exploded
harmlessly, Muniz said. They also fired a pair of grenades at
the gate of a 1st Armored Division base in east Baghdad.
Accustomed to violence, many residents of Baghdad ignored the
blasts and went about their daily chores after sunrise. The city's
small Christian community went to church. Ten minutes of gunfire
disturbed the afternoon calm in the city center.
Also during the day, two roadside bombs exploded on Palestine
Street, a thoroughfare full of shops selling wedding gowns and
photograph studios that is often used by U.S. military convoys.
Two Iraqi police officers were injured, and wares were damaged.
"Only innocent people get hurt and lose their money,"
complained Hassan Thadet al-Tikriti, a shopkeeper from Tikrit,
a center of anti-American resentment and Saddam's former power
base. "Does that scare the Americans? No. It only harms us."
AP reporter Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.