Background: Deadly Attacks in Iraq
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GWEN IFILL: A new wave of violence hits Baghdad. We start with “New York times” correspondent Dexter Filkins. Terrence Smith talked tom this afternoon from Baghdad.
TERENCE SMITH: Dexter, tell us about the targets today, the attacks, and what they were hitting and what the sequence was.
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, there were five attacks today, five successful attacks today. One unsuccessful. Four of those successful attacks were on Iraqi police stations. The fifth one was, hit the Red Cross headquarters here. All of those went within 45 minutes of each other between 8:30 A.M. And 9:15, one after another, bang bang bang. You could hear them throughout the city. The ground shook. I think at the end of the day we’ve got at least 34 dead, 244 wounded and just a lot of broken buildings, and terrible scenes all over the city.
TERENCE SMITH: Was it your sense or is there evidence that they were coordinated?
DEXTER FILKINS: It seems hard to believe that they weren’t coordinated. I think there were five bombings today, and all of them were within 45 minutes of each other. In fact, today, this morning it must have been about 8:30 I was standing right at the foot of the Red Cross building that had just been bombed, and it was a terrible scene, and as I was making my way through there, I heard two other explosions go off. And I was just, well, it was a bad day.
It’s not easy in the best of circumstances, there were bodies all over the place, there were body parts, there were charred corpses, it was just terrible. And then the worst was to come for me, I mean, I went with some colleagues to a second bombing, the north end of Baghdad and we were attacked by a crowd of, must have been a crowd of 200 people when we got out of the truck. We were really lucky to get out alive. The photographer I was with, he got his head bashed pretty badly. We almost didn’t get out of there today. I think we counted 27 bricks that smashed the windows in our car. And it was a bad scene. The crowd was very, very angry and very excited, and soon as they saw us they went at us.
TERENCE SMITH: Because you represent the Americans?
DEXTER FILKINS: Yeah. Yeah. I mean it may be kind of, you know, it may be a difficult logic to understand, but, you know, and I, we weren’t doing a lot of talking out there. But I’ve heard this before. People get angry and they say the Americans brought the car bombs. We didn’t have those before you got here, look what you’ve done. This was a rough neighborhood to begin with. But it was really ugly.
TERENCE SMITH: Why these targets? The ICRC, the police stations, why these targets?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, the police stations, that’s pretty obvious, they’re trying to punish the people who were cooperating with the Americans. The Iraqi police force is something that the Americans are very proud of and they’re very hopeful for that they’ll be able to take over security one day. So these guys are in these little stations and they’re just little buildings and they’re doing the best they can, but they’re very vulnerable.
So they’re sending a message to these guys, you cooperate with the Americans and you take a paycheck from them and we’re coming after you. With the Red Cross it’s, you know, it’s hard to understand at all. One of the main things that the Red Cross is doing was helping Iraqi prisoners, and Iraqis who had been detained by the Americans to contact and communicate with their families. But the Red Cross is one of the few western aid organizations that’s actually still here. I don’t know how much longer they’re going to be here, but they’re one of the few aid organizations still standing and still operating. There are just not that maybe left.
TERENCE SMITH: Has anyone taken responsibility for today’s attacks? Is there any evidence who might have done it?
DEXTER FILKINS: There is evidence, it’s actually very interesting. There were five bombings today, but there was a sixth that didn’t come off. And it was a car, guy driving a car, suicide bomber, I think he had bombs in the car, maybe some stuff strapped to his body. Tried to detonate, didn’t go off, jumped out of the car, and the Iraqi police shot and wounded him. According to some American officials and some Iraqi officials that I talked to today, the guy told them that he was a Syrian and he actually had a Syrian passport.
Now, you know, the overwhelming majority of these attacks have been carried out by loyalists of the old regime, and there’s been a lot of suspicion, but not much evidence, that there are foreigners here and that there’s Jihadis and Islamic fighters coming into the country, and that is kind of the first indication that may be true. Today after all is the first day of Ramadan, which is the Muslim holy month of atonement and fasting. So today was a very religious day, and the attacks had very much religious overtones to them.
TERENCE SMITH: So are the authorities concluding from that one would-be attacker that they captured that the others as well would fit in the same category?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, that’s what they said today. I mean, I have to say I’m a little skeptical until I see all the evidence. But they made a point today of saying the attacks that you saw today were the work of a different group of people than the people who carried out the attacks yesterday. That is the rocket attacks on the Al Rashid Hotel that almost hit the Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz. They firmly believe that was Saddam Hussein loyalists. And that this is a different bunch of guys, which is to say religiously motivated, possibly foreigners.
TERENCE SMITH: That attack yesterday on the Al Rashid Hotel occurred within what you I guess call the green zone, which is I gather sort of a super protected area in the heart of Baghdad, is that right?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, you would think I was super protected. But, you know, there’s an open door and they always find it. I have to say that it’s puzzling. I was driving around last night, we heard some more explosions, they fired some more rockets in last night into the same compound in the same area, and I took a car out I was in the same place where those rockets were fired, I was maybe 400 yards from the hotel, there were no soldiers around, it was a clear shot. They could have done it again. They could do it tomorrow. I mean, it’s hard to protect yourself in every conceivable way. In that sense they’ve got the advantage.
TERENCE SMITH: How do they get as close as what you’re describing to such sensitive and protected targets? And where do they get the rockets and munitions to do this?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, you know, I was talking to a soldier, just a few weeks back, but he said before we got here Iraq was an ammunition dump with a government, and now it’s an ammunition dump without a government. There’s just ammo everywhere here. All these guys have military training, there’s huge ammunition dumps, they’re finding this stuff all the time. And it’s amazing, because they do find the stuff, they find gigantic stores of ammunition and guns and anti-aircraft missiles and it doesn’t seem to be making a dent at all.
As to how do these guys get close, you know, that’s a good question. On this particular attack against the Al Rashid, there’s a highway that more or less cuts through the middle of the American compound, they’ve built some very high cement walls, they were trying to do everybody a favor here because the traffic is very bad because so many roads are closed off and there’s a lot more cars here than there used to be. So when they did that they made themselves a little vulnerable and soon as they did it these guys jumped at the opportunity.
TERENCE SMITH: Dexter Filkins, thanks so much.
DEXTER FILKINS: Thank you.