Today's Paper

Rockets hit Baghdad hotel

MANAMA Oct. 26. The U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, today escaped unhurt after nearly 10 rockets slammed several floors of Baghdad's Al Rashid hotel where he was staying. But a U.S. Colonel was killed and 15 persons, including seven American civilians, four U.S. military personnel and four civilians from other nations, were injured, the U.S. military said.

One hundred and nine U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq after the U.S. President, George W. Bush, declared major combat over Iraq on May 1.

Mr. Wolfowitz, who is on a three-day tour of Iraq, was at the hotel during the attack. Only yesterday a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed near the northern city of Tikrit. An agency report quoted a U.S. military official as saying that the helicopter was brought down by ground fire. One crew member was reportedly injured in this incident, which took place within hours of Mr. Wolfowitz's departure from Tikrit, a stronghold of the ousted Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.

A late night report, quoting the U.S. military said two explosions occurred on Sunday night in the coalition-controlled zone that includes the Al Rashid Hotel.

The blasts, which could be heard across the Tigris, occurred after 9 p.m. more than 15 hours after the attack on the hotel.

The attack in the morning is seen as an expression of growing Iraqi defiance to the U.S. rule, as the Al Rashid hotel, which houses many prominent Americans as well businessmen, has become a well-known symbol of U.S. occupation.

Mr. Wolfowitz has been one of the top architects of the U.S. policy to accomplish the ``regime change'' in Iraq.

Today's attack is expected to effectively counter the growing U.S. assertions that the security situation in Iraq was improving. The hotel is part of a high security zone, which also includes the U.S.-led coalition headquarters and a convention center where U.S. information and other offices are located.

The U.S. military had, on Saturday, reopened a major bridge linking the north and south of the city across the Tigris river, which it said illustrated that the situation in Baghdad was normalising. The U.S. forces had also decided to lift the night curfew in Baghdad in anticipation of the month of Ramadan, when people across the country, visit shopping areas and restaurants late in the night.

Mr. Wolfowitz made a statement later maintaining that the situation in Iraq was stabilising, and attributed the violence to the small number of ``criminals who are trying to destabilise this country.''

According to the Iraqi police, the attack took place after insurgents drove a trailer towing a two-wheeled generator to the edge of park, not far from the hotel. The rockets, apparently on timer, ignited inside the trailer and flew towards the hotel, causing extensive damage.

Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armoured Division, which is responsible for Baghdad's security, said that about eight to 10 missiles hit the hotel, and 11 were still in the launcher when the U.S. troops examined it. He said he did not know how many missiles were fired but missed the hotel, which was subsequently evacuated and the entire area sealed off.

The 14th floor of the 18-storey hotel suffered a rocket attack on September 27, but it failed to cause much destruction.

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