The blast occurred in a parking lot some 250 yards from the main U.N. compound in the Canal Hotel, the scene of a brutal truck bombing last month that killed more than 20 people, including the United Nations’ top envoy in the country.
“It was as if I was being pushed and thrown three meters from where I was standing,” passerby Wissam Majid, who was lightly injured, told the Associated Press. “I saw fire and smoke. I started running away and then I lost consciousness.”
“This is a suicide bomb,” Capt. Sean Kirley, a U.S. officer at the scene, told reporters, according to Reuters. Kirley said the bomber drove into the U.N. parking lot and was stopped by an Iraqi policeman guarding the area.
“The driver and the guard engaged in conversation and the bomb was detonated from inside the vehicle,” Kirley said. Kirley said he didn’t know whether any U.S. troops were near the scene at the time of the blast but none were reported injured.
Authorities identified the slain policeman as 23-year-old Salam Mohammed. A U.N. spokeswoman said 19 people were wounded, including two Iraqi U.N. staffers.
“This incident today once again underlines that Iraq remains a war zone and a high risk environment, particularly for those working to improve the lives of the Iraqi people,” Kevin Kennedy, the senior U.N. official in Baghdad, said in a statement read by U.N. spokeswoman Antonia Paradela at the scene.
“It’s not really for lack of security that this happens,” she said, according to Reuters. “If people are willing to kill themselves there’s not a lot we can do.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he’s “shocked and distressed” by the latest bombing and warned that if security conditions continue to worsen in the war-torn country, then U.N. operations “will be handicapped considerably.”
Three U.S. soldiers were killed over the weekend in Iraq, two in a mortar attack on the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and one in a roadside bombing near the town of Ramadi. Since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, more than 70 U.S. soldiers have been killed in hostile incidents.
Monday’s attack comes as an Iraqi delegation was to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. One of Iraq’s representatives, Governing Council member Akila al-Hashemi, was critically wounded Saturday in an assassination attempt in Baghdad.
Hashemi was reported to be improving Monday after receiving medical care at the American-run Ibn Sina Hospital.
President Bush is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday and challenge the international community to do more to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush is then expected to spend much of Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with the leaders of France, Germany, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.
In an interview with Fox News to be aired Monday night, the president said the United States “made the right decision” to intervene in Iraq and will now ask the United Nations to help make the country more secure.
“We would like a larger role for member states of the United Nations to participate in Iraq,” the president said in the interview, according to Fox News. “I mean, after all, we’ve got member states now, Great Britain and Poland, leading multinational divisions to help make the country more secure.”
The president also said the United Nations might not have to take on a larger political role in order to get more international support for reconstruction and security efforts.
“I do think it would be helpful to get the United Nations in to help write a constitution … they’re good at that,” Mr. Bush said. “Or, perhaps when an election starts, they’ll oversee the election. That would be deemed a larger role.”