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Baghdad Attacks Targets Hotels; Over 30 Killed

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Madeleine Brand in California.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel in Washington.

And we begin this hour in Baghdad with a series of brazen suicide attacks. The targets: three hotels frequented by foreigners. The coordinated bombings left three dozen people dead and more than 70 wounded.

NPRs bureau is not far from one of the targets and was damaged in the attack. Our own Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was there and she filed this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: First, came the shooting...

(Soundbite of gunshots)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...several insurgents attacking the front gate of the Hamra Hotel, then a minibus packed with explosives pushed through detonating just yards away from the main entrance.

(Soundbite of explosion)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hamra Hotel is popular with Western journalists. Several major news organizations are based there. Wissam Mahmoud works for NBC. He was standing on the balcony when the attack unfolded.

Mr. WISSAM MAHMOUD (Journalist, NBC News): I saw the guards shooting for some insurgents, then minibus stopped there and then its a bomb. I dont know whats happened after that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The insurgents had sophisticated weapons, he says, and they overwhelmed the hotels security guards.

Unidentified Woman #1: Just minutes after a massive explosion at the Hamra Hotel, right in front of me is a large crater. The police right now are going through the rubble trying to look for any survivors. It looks like an earthquake has hit this area.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Two women are found underneath the debris. They hovel out screaming. The face of one of them is covered in white dust mixed with long streaks of red blood.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May God kill the government, she shouts. Around her are mangled cars and chunks of flesh. A severed leg lies on the ground trampled by the crowd. The insurgents targeted the Sheraton Hotel and the Babylon Hotel as well in the same neighborhood of Qurada(ph).

The blast all happened within 10 minutes of each other, clearly a well coordinated attack on places known to house foreigners. Iraqs elections are scheduled for March 7th and security has become one of the main campaign issues. If the bombings were meant to show that the Iraqi government is not up to the task of protecting this city, then they succeeded at least here.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Miserable, this is miserable. This is a disaster situation. Look at what happened, he says. The man declined to give his name, but the sentiment was echoed by many of the victims of the attack.

Unidentified Woman #3: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Everyone here is our family, she says. We are all Iraqis. All of them are our sons. Security has improved across Iraq in recent years, but militants still have the ability to carry out spectacular attacks. The U.S. military has warned there could be an uptick in violence as the election draws near.

But U.S. Forces were nowhere to be seen in the direct aftermath of the Hamra bombing. They are no longer the first responders after withdrawing from Iraqs cities. And so, Iraqs security forces and the Iraqi government was the target of most peoples ire.

And what remained at the lobby of the Hamra Hotel, Wissam Mahmoud said, he felt he would be secure here, standing amid the torn curtains, blown out windows and splintered doors, he clutched his wounded arm.

Mr. MAHMOUD: Weve always felt this place is safer place in Baghdad, but now no place safe, no place safe.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.