TERENCE SMITH: Ed Wong, thank you for joining us. What can you tell us about these two explosions that took place inside the green zone?
EDWARD WONG: Well, as you probably know, one of them took place in a marketplace, the other one at a popular restaurant. And basically, it just shows how vulnerable the American occupation, as well as the interim government, are here.
The Green Zone is generally considered the safest area in Baghdad. It's a four-square-mile area that holds the American embassy, as well as the offices of Prime Minister Allawi's government. And there have been attempts to bomb places in the green zone before. For example, just last week people discovered a bomb at the same restaurant that was bombed today, and they diffused it.
But apparently the restaurant was filled with patrons today when the bomb went off. It's unclear exactly who set off the bombs. Jordanian militant Abu Musab al- Zarqawi has taken credit for it, but his group often takes credit for a lot of attacks, and there is no confirmation that he or his group actually took part in them.
But there is some indication that the bomb that went off... the bombs that went off were perpetrated by non-Iraqis, because apparently an Iraqi worker at the restaurant asked two men who went into the restaurant whether they were Iraqis after he started speaking to them, and they said they were Jordanians. So obviously something tipped the worker off to the fact that they weren't Iraqi-- perhaps the accent they were speaking in.
TERENCE SMITH: And is it believed that they actually hand-carried the explosives into the zone? And how is that possible?
EDWARD WONG: It's unclear. Explosives themselves were hand- carried to their respective sites within the zone. Whether they hand-carried them into the zone from the outside isn't clear right now. The thing is that there are many checkpoints to get into the zone. And each time there is fairly extensive security checks.
When I go into the zone to do interviews or to go to press conferences, I have to go through five different checkpoints. I'm frisked at three of them, and I have to present my badge at three of them. So it is fairly rigorous. At the same time, there are 12,000 Iraqis who live within the zone who come in and out of the zone.
And also, among those 12,000 Iraqis, there are many who are hostile to the occupation. It's not an... it's not a rare sentiment among Iraqis throughout the country or even among those living in the green zone. And the bomb very well could have been manufactured within the green zone or put together in pieces or smuggled into the green zone in pieces and then assembled there.
TERENCE SMITH: What impact has this had on the sense of security of the people who are in the green zone, Iraqi and American?
EDWARD WONG: Well, I think the military had said that it's going to step up its security practices within the green zone, both inside as well as on the perimeters outside. And they've said that they've gotten reports that within the holy month of Ramadan, which is a feasting month in Muslim countries, that there will be an increase in attacks because within this month, people who martyr themselves apparently get some benefits from doing so within Ramadan.
And today is the eve of Ramadan, and tomorrow's the first day, so the military is going to be fairly cautious starting, you know, right after the bombings onward.
TERENCE SMITH: Any sense of the desired target of this? Was it the American occupation itself? Was it the people in the cafe? What can you tell us?
EDWARD WONG: I think... it was clear that the bombers knew that there would be foreigners both in the cafe as well as in the market where they bombed, and the casualty toll of the foreigners is fairly high in comparison to previous bombings where they usually kill lots of Iraqi civilians and not so many soldiers, American soldiers or American civilians.
This time they did have a fairly significant toll. And I think basically the strike is deadly both in the number of casualties but also in the symbolic value of the strike, and that is showing that the militants can strike anywhere within Iraq, right in the very heart of the occupation and at the very heart of the Iraqi government, and it really instills a sense of fear throughout people.
TERENCE SMITH: Some of the victims in the reporting worked for a contracting company, DynCorp, that... can you tell us about that, what they do? Do they provide security in Iraq, as I know they do in Afghanistan?
EDWARD WONG: DynCorp is a fairly large security contractor that's working here, and they're also a very popular target for insurgents. They occupy rooms in a hotel called the Baghdad Hotel, which is actually right down the street from where I'm taping this right now, and there have been a lot of attacks on that hotel, lots of car bombs.
Just a week-and-a-half or two weeks ago there was a large car bomb that exploded right outside the hotel. And basically Iraqis always say that these DynCorp workers, when they see them around, they accuse them of being intelligence agents for the Americans, perhaps CIA agents, maybe agents of the Mossad. And so they're fairly common targets.
TERENCE SMITH: Separately, Ed, we read that the president of Iraq, al-Yawer, is quoted in a paper today as saying that the January date for elections in Iraq is "not sacred." I wonder how officials there are interpreting that, and whether this is a signal --that of postponement.
EDWARD WONG: It's a statement that has to be taken with some weight. Sheik Ghazi has a ceremonial role as president of Iraq, but also he represents one of the largest Sunni tribes in Iraq, the Shamar tribe. A lot of its members are up North, and any statement that Sheik Ghazi says can't be ignored. He represents, for many people, the Sunni establishment. And this is... you know, the Sunni Muslims are a minority in Iraq, but they ruled Iraq for a long time.
And they're the ones that need to be brought in to be enfranchised within the new government so that they'll try and channel their energies into legitimate politics rather than the insurgency. And Sheik Ghazi's statement is a big break from Prime Minister Allawi and President Bush's stand, but it's something that can't be brushed off.
TERENCE SMITH: And so we'll just have to see in coming days, then, the reaction to it? Is that what you're saying?
EDWARD WONG: That's right. It will be interesting to see what the prime minister's office says in reaction to it, and whether even the Bush administration or people within the administration have anything to say about it.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay, Ed Wong of the New York Times, thanks very much.
EDWARD WONG: Thanks a lot.