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Deadly Attack: Background

August 19, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s truck bombing in Baghdad not only was the deadliest single attack against a foreign target since the U.S. coalition took over the city, but was perhaps the least anticipated. It was not directed against the occupiers or any military target, but against the U.N., whose role is to help with relief and reconstruction. The blast that took the lives of the top U.N. official in Baghdad and more than a dozen others came at 4:30 P.M. local time, as another U.N. official was conducting a press briefing inside the mission.


KWAME HOLMAN: This video was shot by a Japanese television crew. Windows a mile away were knocked out and several cars were destroyed. About 300 people worked in the three-story hotel housing most U.N. agencies in Baghdad. Their mission was to distribute humanitarian aid and monitor human rights abuses, among other things. The scope of the U.N. role has been a source of disagreement between the U.S.-led coalition and other nations, who want the U.N. to have broad authority in Iraq.

Today those disputes faded in the face of grief for U.N. colleagues in Baghdad, and a determination to carry on. In New York City, Syria’s deputy ambassador speaking for the Security Council and said the bombing would not deter the U.N.’s current efforts in Iraq.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD, Deputy Syrian Ambassador to the U.N.: Members of the Council reaffirm that this horrible attack that aimed at undermining the vital role of the United Nations in Iraq will not affect their determination, and members of the Council will stay united against such attacks, and help the Iraqi people restore peace and stability to their country.

KWAME HOLMAN: The U.S. administrator in Iraq struck a similar tone regarding American- led operations.

L. PAUL BREMER, U.S. Administrator in Iraq: My message is the coalition has undertaken a noble cause, which is to secure the peace, stabilize Iraq, and give it a growing, vibrant economy and freedom. We will do that, there will be ups and downs. There will be days like today which are clearly tragic, but there is absolutely no question that the coalition intends to stay the course here, that is our message, it is a very clear message and it is unwavering.

KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush reiterated that point later, interrupting his Texas ranch vacation to make a statement. He blamed terrorists for the bombing.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The civilized world will not be intimidated, and these killers will not determine the future of Iraq. All nations of the world face a challenge and a choice. By attempting to spread chaos and fear, terrorists are testing our will. Across the world they are finding that our will cannot be shaken. We will persevere through every hardship. We will continue this war on terror until the killers are brought to justice, and we will prevail.

KWAME HOLMAN: The attack on the U.N. is the latest in a series that indicate a change in tactics by opponents of the Iraq occupation. It came 12 days after another so-called “soft” target was hit in Baghdad. On August 7, a car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian embassy killing 19 people, all of them Iraqis. And in the last week, there have been other attacks and sabotage including explosions that disrupted an oil pipeline that stretches to the Turkish border; a water main puncture in Baghdad; a mortar attack at a prison; and continuing grenade and sniper assaults on U.S. and British soldiers. Attacks also have been directed against Iraqis who have worked closely with coalition authorities. The attacks on infrastructure targets have exacerbated the daily discomfort for many in Baghdad and elsewhere, further stretching the patience of citizens who are coping in hundred-plus-degree heat without air conditioning, electricity, or adequate water. And political agitation continues, much of it directed at the coalition occupiers, urging their prompt departure.

Three hundred people marched through a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad yesterday waving guns and banners, protesting the presence of U.S. troops. Tensions have run high since last Wednesday when U.S. soldiers in a helicopter tried to remove a flag atop a communications tower. The flag honored a 12th-century Shiite imam. The U.S. apologized and called the incident a mistake. It still is unclear if the attacks are part of an organized resistance. But an Iraqi group calling itself the National Islamic Resistance movement claimed in a videotape broadcast on al Jazeera Sunday it would continue to battle what they called the occupying troops. And a similar message calling on Muslims to fight U.S. soldiers was made in an audio tape broadcast on al-Arabiyah TV yesterday. But there had been no warning the U.N. or its chief representative in Iraq would be targets.