Convoy of Foreign Contractors Is Hit by Truck Bomb in Baghdad

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
and EDWARD WONG

The New York Times

Published: June 14, 2004

BAGHDAD, June 14 - A truck packed with explosives rammed into a convoy of foreign contractors and exploded in a massive fireball today, killing at least 13 people during morning rush hour.

Among the dead were two Britons, one Frenchman, one American and another foreigner of undetermined nationality, the American military said. A spokesman for General Electric said three of its employees, and two others contracted by the company to provide security, were among those killed.

The blast also wounded more than 60 people, including 10 foreign contractors, the military said.

Minutes after the explosion, a crowd of young men poured into the streets and rushed toward the wreckage.

As Iraqi police officers stood by, the mob stomped on the hoods of the crushed vehicles and smashed the windows, and lit American flags on fire.

"Oh Ali!" some yelled.

"Long live Sadr!" shouted others, referring to radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

A squad of American soldiers arrived shortly afterward and was greeted by a hail of rocks. The soldiers stayed for a few minutes and then pulled back.

It was the second car bomb in 24 hours, following an attack on Sunday that killed 12 Iraqis. It had been months since car bombs so fatal had been detonated in Iraq, and the incidents marked a surge in violence as a sweltering summer filled with political tensions began to set in. With no end to the insurgency in sight, many Iraqis - including those who once supported the ouster of Saddam Hussein - profess to having no confidence in the occupation.

The target of today's bomb was a convoy of three sport-utility vehicles carrying foreign contractors working on Iraq's power system, Iraqi and foreign government officials said. The General Electric spokesman, Gary Sheffer, said three employees of a wholly-owned G.E. subsidiary, Granite Services Inc., and two workers under contract as part of a security staff, were among those killed, Reuters reported. The company provided no information about the identities of the victims. Agence France-Presse said that a Filipino was among the dead.

The scene revealed not just the continuing anti-American resentment but the growing tolerance for disorder. Iraqi police officers watched as men lit the contractors' vehicles on fire, causing a huge secondary explosion in the middle of one of Baghdad's busiest neighborhoods. Even as angry men ran past them hurling bricks at the American soldiers, none of the more than 50 policemen intervened.

"What are we to do?" asked Lt. Wisam Deab of the Iraqi police. "If we try to stop them, they will think we are helping the Americans. Then they were turn on us."

Arab television crews filmed the mayhem, sending out images reminiscent of the scene in Falluja in March when a mob attacked the vehicles of four American contractors who had been killed and dragged their corpses through the streets.

American and Iraqi officials have said they are trying to improve security cooperation in the run-up to the June 30 transfer of authority. But today, there was very little communication between American soldiers and Iraqi police.

As clouds of black smoke boiled up from the street, American soldiers waited in their humvees 50 yards behind Iraqi policemen.

"The Americans say we are working together," said one police colonel who asked not to be identified. "But I am confused. Nobody is in control here."

Iyad Alawi, Iraq's new prime minister, said five of the people killed were foreign workers assigned to electricity projects.

"These people were helping to rebuild our country," Mr. Alawi said at a news conference today. "It was an unfortunate and cowardly act."

A policeman who carried some of the bodies away from the scene in his pickup truck before the mob came showed a British passport he found on one of the victims. The bed of his police truck was smeared with blood.

Iraqi hospital officials said eight Iraqi civilians were killed by the attack and dozens wounded.