Thursday, May 17, 2007


Two Iraqis killed in mortar attack on Green Zone

(AP) - Mortar rounds hammered the U.S.-controlled Green Zone for a second day Wednesday, killing at least two people, wounding about 10 more and raising new fears for the safety of workers at the nerve center of the American mission in Iraq. About a dozen shells crashed into the 3.5-square-mile area of central Baghdad about 4 p.m., sending terrified pedestrians racing for the safety of concrete bunkers.
No American casualties were reported, and the two dead as well as most of the wounded were Iraqis, U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said. An Iraqi security officer said one of the dead was a driver for the staff of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose office is in the Green Zone. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release the information.
"Around 10 mortars impacted on the International Zone, wounding eight people and causing two deaths," US embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said. The two people who were killed and six of the wounded were Iraqis, Fintor said, adding that the other two were "third country nationals," meaning they are neither American nor Iraqi. Powerful explosions rocked the Assassin's Gate area near the Iraqi defence ministry and the US embassy compound, which is inside the walled district and has in recent weeks become a prime target for insurgent attacks.
On Tuesday, five contractors working for the US embassy were wounded by "indirect fire", an embassy spokesman said. On May 2, two Indians, a Filipino and a Nepalese working for the embassy were killed in a rocket attack.
Both the intensity and skill of the attack were noteworthy. The shells, believed to be 122mm, exploded in rapid succession over about a three-minute period. The blasts were relatively close to one another, suggesting an experienced mortar crew using more than one launcher. It was unclear whether the rounds were fired by Sunni or Shiite extremists. Both groups operate in areas of the city within rocket and mortar range of the secured complex despite the ongoing Baghdad security crackdown.
U.S. officials would not comment on damage in Wednesday's attack, citing security. However, the U.S. Institute of Peace said its office suffered "significant" shrapnel damage though there were no casualties among its staff. The institute sponsored the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which outlined a plan last December for the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008.
Nine people were wounded in a rocket attack Tuesday, and four Asian contractors were killed in a barrage May 3. State Department spokesman Tom Casey downplayed the latest attack, saying "it's been part of the operating environment for our officials there, as well as for other people working there."
Nevertheless, the recent increase in attacks has raised alarm among American staffers living and working in what had been considered an oasis of safety in the turbulent Iraqi capital. This month, the U.S. Embassy ordered diplomats to wear flak jackets and helmets while outdoors or in unprotected buildings. Later this year, the United States plans to open a massive new embassy inside the Green Zone despite the ongoing security threat. Embassy staffers have expressed concern that the new facility lacks enough space to house the estimated 1,000 employees in safety.
Those concerns have risen because of a number of high-profile security breaches in the American-controlled zone, located on the west bank of the Tigris River, which flows through the center of the city.

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