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Friday, October 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:25 A.M.

Deadly blasts rattle Iraq's Green Zone

By Nancy A. Youssef and Patrick Kerkstra
Knight Ridder Newspapers

U.S. soldiers examine the scene near a street market after suicide bombings inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, yesterday that killed at least five people, including four U.S. civilians. At least 20 Iraqis and four U.S. soldiers were killed in other Iraq violence.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq's most-feared terrorist group claimed responsibility for setting off two bombs in the heavily fortified Green Zone yesterday, killing at least five people, including four U.S. civilians.

DynCorp International, a company based in Fort Worth, Texas, that works primarily for the State Department in Iraq, said three of the dead were its employees. The company said a fourth person was missing and presumed dead. U.S. officials did not release the identities of the other dead and wounded.

The twin bombings, which witnesses and a senior Iraqi official said were carried out by suicide bombers, were the first fatal terrorist attacks in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, a compound of 10,000 U.S. and other coalition nationals and Iraqi employees that had been considered the safest place in Baghdad, if not all Iraq.

A terrorist group led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the bombings.

The blasts represented a fraction of widespread violence across Iraq yesterday, which left at least 20 Iraqis and four U.S. soldiers dead in clashes, ambushes and bombings, officials said.

Two U.S. soldiers died after their vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in Ramadi. Another was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, and the fourth was hit with small-arms fire while on patrol, the military said.

As of yesterday, 1,086 members of the U.S. military had died in Iraq since the United States invaded 18 months ago, according to the Defense Department. The figure includes three military civilians.

Though the number of guerrilla attacks have dropped in the past few weeks, death tolls have remained high, and U.S. and Iraqi officials fear a surge with Ramadan, set to begin tonight.

At the same time, U.S. forces are on the offensive, particularly in the western cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Fallujah representatives suspended peace talks with the Iraqi interim government yesterday. Hours later, U.S. forces pounded the Sunni city with aerial bombing and artillery shelling.

U.S. forces have been hammering Fallujah for weeks, saying precise but punishing attacks have debilitated the leadership and disrupted the activities of al-Zarqawi's militant group.

Iraqi and U.S. officials said there's a $1 million reward for information that leads to the arrest of al-Zarqawi, who is thought to be linked to al-Qaida. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has promised an aggressive response in Fallujah, where al-Zarqawi is believed to be based, if residents don't turn him in.

Yet it was al-Zarqawi who claimed victory yesterday with the attack in the heart of the Iraqi and U.S. power structure.

The Green Zone suicide bombings remain under investigation, but officials said they thought the bombs were hand-carried into the 3-square-mile compound, a feat that would have required getting past several U.S. military checkpoints or bypassing them altogether.

Those inside described a scene nearly identical to those that occur regularly outside the compound: ground-shaking blasts followed by death and debris.

The first bombing happened about 12:50 p.m. at a bazaar in the compound that sells DVDs, Iraqi flags and rugs; five minutes later, the second bomb exploded in the Green Zone Cafe, a popular hangout for U.S. officials, said Maj. Philip Smith of the 1st Cavalry Division, which is in charge of the Green Zone.

Those near the cafe described two Jordanian men walking into the makeshift cafe: a metal frame tent covered by canvas. Once inside, the men ordered tea and sat down. Those in the cafe said they noticed the men weren't wearing identification badges and were carrying bags.

"Their faces looked different. It was the first time we saw them in the restaurant," said Abdul Razak Mohammed, 32, a waiter.

Jan. 31 election date not sacred, official says

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq's president said in an interview published yesterday that the Jan. 31 date for Iraqi elections is "not sacred" and the vote could be postponed if a lack of security threatens the fairness of balloting.

President Ghazi al-Yawer's comments, made in an interview with the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, represent a departure from a major policy goal of both the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi have insisted the election will proceed as planned despite the growing security crisis.

Most real power in the Iraqi government rests with Allawi; al-Yawer's role is mostly ceremonial.

— The Associated Press

After about 25 minutes, one of the men got up, and shortly afterward, the first bomb detonated, Mohammed said. Shortly after, an explosion rocked the cafe. At the time, there were about 20 people in the cafe, half of them Americans.

The cafe was reduced to shreds and twisted metal. The area was littered with debris up to 50 feet from the restaurant.

DynCorp International identified the victims as John Pinsonneault, 39, of North Branch, Minn.; Steve Osborne, 40, of Kennesaw, Ga.; and Eric Miner, 44, of South Windham, Conn. A fourth employee, Ferdinand Ibaboa, 36, of Mesa, Ariz., was missing and presumed dead, the company said. Two DynCorp employees were wounded, the company added.

The announced death toll did not appear to include the suicide bombers.

The identities of the dead Americans were released by Computer Service, the parent company of DynCorp.

DynCorp, which provides security and police training for the U.S. government and military in war zones throughout the world, was awarded a $50 million State Department contract to train Iraqi police and prison personnel in April 2003. In August, three DynCorp contractors were killed by a Taliban car-bomb attack on the company's office in Kabul, Afghanistan, where DynCorp provides security for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and oversees police training.

A week ago, officials found a 5-pound explosive in the Green Zone Cafe and detonated it. That discovery prompted U.S. and British officials to warn that explosives could be planted in the compound.

In the hours after the bombings, fully armored U.S. soldiers with their weapons loaded scoured the Green Zone.

Iraqis in markets near the Green Zone said the explosion proved that the Americans weren't in control of the security situation. "The Americans entered Iraq and so did all the chaos and looting. They failed to protect the citizens and failed to protect the border," said Nabil Sabah, 32, who works in a money-exchange shop.

Some of those living in the complex said the explosion was inevitable and continued working afterward.

"It's been a possibility for a long time," said a U.S. official who asked not to be named because American officials banned anyone other than spokesmen from talking about the attacks. "If you want security, don't come here."

Youssef reports for the Detroit Free Press, Kerkstra for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Omar Jassim in Baghdad and Charles Homans in Washington contributed to this report. Material from the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune is included.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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