26 September 2003
Arasat is a quiet, uneventful suburb of Baghdad, a place of good restaurants serving moderate Lebanese wine, middle class and educated and absolutely unassociated with violence. So the bomb which stopped the clock of the Christian family across the road from the Aike Hotel - it showed 6.51am - also exploded many illusions. The American NBC television network was based in the pseudo-Greek apartment block, there was only one night-watchman and the reporters felt secure far from the American tanks and armoured personnel carriers that guard the Palestine Hotel and the other targets of opportunity in Baghdad.
In bed yesterday morning, I heard the blast - a very minute increase in air pressure - that took the life of the Somali doorman at the Aike, and by the time I got there, it was the usual blood and bits of metal, the watch timer - found by a journalist - and possibly the battery for the bomb - found by The Independent on the roof of a villa opposite - that was left. A little bomb, left behind the hotel's generator, in the hope, no doubt, that it would ignite enough fuel to bring down the wretched place. In the event, of course, the dead Somali - remember Black Hawk Down? - played only a bit part in the drama.
The world was told that a Baghdad hotel had been targeted, that staff of an American television network were the intended victims and that there had been "one" Somali dead. He had no name. No one knew his name. But they did know the name of David Moodie, the NBC soundman who received a nasty piece of broken glass in his arm.
"Americans targeted in Baghdad hotel bomb" was on the news wires. Which was, of course, exactly what the nasty little bomber wanted.
You can see how his master's mind worked. One, attack the Americans. Two, go for a hotel. Three, be sure that it would receive more publicity than the killing of an innocent Iraqi bus passenger.
Lt-Col Peter Jones of "Task Force 1-6" told us it was an "improvised explosive device" and, long after he had left, the FBI and its heavily armed escorts arrived in two 4-by-4s, one of them speaking in a cockney accent, to assess the crime. Too late for the timing mechanism, they did not even spot the clock in the villa opposite and that, I suppose, is the problem when you have to get your "security" escort and arm yourself and find the location long after the attack has taken place. Certainly too late to understand the effect on the Christian family across the road. They stood, professional people - the husband is the Daimler agent in Baghdad - asking who would pay for their broken windows and blasted doors and shredded sofas upon which they were sleeping when the bomb exploded. "At least before all this, I could drink tea on the lawn outside my house," the man said. So what can the Iraqis do? Nothing. What can the Western journalists do? Remain discrete, in undefended hotels like the Aike? Or cluster like rodents around the Palestine Hotel, which is defended by an army of Iraqi policemen and US troops? Arasat was safe - at least, until the NBC lads turned up to live there, along with their "stand-upper" dish and floodlights on the roof.
Many Western journalists in Baghdad were reassessing their safety last night. Was the bomb a warning? Or just a propaganda explosion with a single, poor Somali as the real victim? Needless to say, more attention was paid in Baghdad yesterday afternoon to the death of Aqila al-Hashimi, the ex-Baathist member of the US-appointed Interim Council who was shot and gravely wounded in an assassination attempt on Saturday.
Ambushed with great precision - the road outside her home was blocked by gunmen's cars as she left - Mrs Hashimi had been operated on for bullet wounds to her abdomen in the Kindi Hospital and then taken to an American medical facility outside the capital. Initially, the former foreign ministry official under Saddam Hussein was reported as being "out of danger". Yesterday, she died from her wounds, the first member of America's Iraqi "government" to be murdered.