Two Car Bombs Kill at Least 11 as Rumsfeld Visits Iraq


New York Times

October 11, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 10 Two suicide car bombs exploded within 15 minutes of each other today in eastern Baghdad, killing at least 10 Iraqis and one American soldier and injuring at least 15 others, Iraqi and American officials said.

And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived in Iraq on an unannounced visit to meet with American and Iraqi forces and military officials.

The first bomb exploded at about 7:15 a.m. next to an American military convoy and initially injured a soldier, military officials said. The soldier later died of his injuries.

The second bombing took place near a police academy on Palestine Street, apparently aimed at a line of recruits standing outside the station. A minibus packed with explosives began speeding up toward the building, across the street from an American base, and appeared to detonate prematurely, witnesses said.

One hospital reported receiving at least 10 bodies and treating the wounds of five people, according to The Associated Press. The police said a total of 15 people were injured in that explosion.

The blast left a crater four feet deep and six feet wide. Iraqi medics scoured the debris-strewn area, picking up a severed arm and other unidentifiable body parts and throwing them into a translucent body bag. Police officers tried holding back a growing and occasionally unruly crowd of bystanders and journalists.

Medics loaded a body wrapped in plastic into an ambulance with wailing sirens and began driving away. But as soon as the ambulance left the perimeter, it hit a horrendous traffic jam. The driver's assistant got out to direct traffic, waving hands sheathed in blood-soaked gloves, but failed to get the ambulance moving for at least an hour.

Nearby, an American medic leaned over an injured Iraqi man lying on a stretcher next to a Humvee that had been peppered with shrapnel. "I'm only going to cut you lightly to get the shrapnel out," the medic said. He cut into the patient and then began stitching him up while Iraqi police officers fanned the man's face with their hats.

The American military said a marine was killed in combat on Saturday in restive Anbar province. At least 1,062 American soldiers have died in the war. The first day of a declared cease-fire between American troops and the militia of the firebrand cleric Moktada al-Sadr unfolded in Sadr City, a vast slum of 2.2 million people in northeastern Baghdad that is home to Mr. Sadr's most zealous supporters.

Kassim Daoud, the national security adviser, said at a news conference that members of the Mahdi Army, Mr. Sadr's Shiite militia, will be asked to turn in heavy weapons such as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at three police stations in Sadr City. The militia members will be given cash for such weapons, but can keep handguns and AK-47's. The weapons purchase program will start on Monday and continue until Friday.

Mr. Sadr's aides said the cleric is still seeking assurances from the interim Iraqi government that neither its security forces nor American troops will arrest or prosecute people in his organization. Last Thursday, authorities released a senior Sadr cleric, Moayad al-Khazraji, from an American prison, presumably as a sign of goodwill in the negotiations.

Mr. Sadr's aides have said that Mr. Sadr is very interested in getting involved in legitimate politics, especially given the possibility of elections in January, and that this cease-fire could open the way for dissolution of the Mahdi Army.

Since last April, when Mr. Sadr ignited an uprising against the American occupation, it has been difficult to force the cleric into a binding peace agreement. He and his militia have broken several truces, and fighting raged for much of the summer in cities across the south and in Sadr City.

In August, marines engaged in pitched battles with the Mahdi Army in the holy city of Najaf, where Mr. Sadr has his home and office, and wrested control of the central shrine from the militia.

For weeks, the First Cavalry Division has been pounding Sadr City with almost nightly airstrikes, using an AC-130 gunship and fighter jets to attack suspected militia hideouts. Doctors and Sadr officials say civilians have been killed and wounded in the strikes, though the American military insists it does not aim at civilians. In any case, the attacks seem to have helped push Mr. Sadr toward the bargaining table.

"It is a great day for me and for all the people of the city that the fighting has stopped," Ahmad Murad, 32, a shoe salesman, said as he tended to his shop. "Our city needs a lot of work to rebuild it. We suffered a lot under the old regime, and we don't want to suffer now."

Tahseen Majeed, a 28-year-old primary school teacher, expressed surprise about the cease-fire as he stood in a dusty roadway drinking a soda.

"I didn't think this agreement between the Iraqi government and Moktada's group would see fruition because the Americans look for any reason to enter the city, along with the Iraqi Army and police," he said. "The people of the city will hand over their weapons. The city is badly damaged."

A hairdresser named Mosa Esa Meer Hussain voiced a common sentiment in this Shiite slum that elections take place as scheduled. "The election will give Iraq and Iraqis more strength," he said.

A delegation of tribal sheiks from the insurgent stronghold of Falluja continued meeting today with officials from the Iraqi government to try to hammer out a peace agreement. The American military has been launching virtually daily airstrikes against Falluja, 35 miles west of Baghdad. As in Sadr City, local residents say the strikes kill civilians.

The talks have been going on for weeks now and have accelerated in the last several days, but Iraqi and American officials have expressed doubts about whether the sheiks with whom they are negotiating actually have the power to tell jihadist groups in Falluja to lay down their arms.

Falluja has become a cauldron of loosely knit insurgent cells, including ones made up of foreign fighters, with many of the groups united under an Islamist banner. The most prominent group is the ruthless One God and Jihad, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Mr. Rumsfeld spent about 12 hours today hopscotching across Iraq visiting American troops in Al-Anbar province, meeting with top military commanders in Baghdad and meeting Iraq's prime minister, Ayad Allawi.

In Kirkuk, he met with Iraqi security officials and reviewed Iraqi troops. He told the chief of police, national guard commander and other security officials that the United States supported training of Iraqi forces but long-term solutions were up to Iraq.

"We can help but we can't do it," he said. "You have to do it."

Mr. Rumsfeld told American marines that as Iraqi forces are built up "we will be able to relieve the stress on our forces and see a reduction in coalition forces over some period of time, probably post-Iraqi election," according to The A.P. "But again, it will depend entirely on the security situation here in this country."

Eric Schmitt, Ashley Gilbertson and Fouad al-Sheikhly contributed reporting for this article.