Published on Sunday, October 26, 2003 by Reuters
Rockets Blast Wolfowitz's Baghdad Hotel
by Carol Giacomo
BAGHDAD - Anti-American guerrillas blasted the Baghdad hotel where U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying with a barrage of rockets on Sunday, but the No. 2 Pentagon official survived unharmed, U.S. officials said.
Up to 15 people were wounded in the strike that is a setback for the Bush administration, undermining its insistence the United States is winning the guerrilla war in Iraq despite escalating violence.
The blast of the rockets hitting the Rashid Hotel at about 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) echoed across the city as a clear, rapid series of explosions. Several guests were thrown from their beds by the impact.
Some people were carried out of the hotel on stretchers and others walked away with blood on them after at least six rockets slammed into the building, destroying rooms on stories below Wolfowitz's on the 12th floor, witnesses said.
Wolfowitz, a major force behind the United States invading Iraq, was led away by security forces. He appeared composed after descending a stairwell past thickening smoke and blood stains with a fire alarm blaring, witnesses said.
"These terrorist attacks will not deter us from completing our mission, which is to help the Iraqi people free themselves from the types of criminals who did this and protect the American people from this kind of terrorism," Wolfowitz told reporters hours after the attack.
U.S. officials had previously said there were no reports of deaths. But an unshaven and tired-looking Wolfowitz, wearing a blazer and open-necked shirt, said he had an unconfirmed report an American had been killed.
Iraqi security guards exchanged gunfire with the attackers and wounded two of them, Capt. Charles Steward, spokesman for the 1st Armored Division, said. He did not know if anyone had been detained.
Injuries were generally minor and caused by flying debris and possible smoke inhalation, he said.
"We have unconfirmed reports of 15 wounded," another military official said.
Wolfowitz was paying his second visit to Iraq in three months and had stressed the need to speed up the formation of Iraqi security forces.
Members of his traveling party, who had been dressing ahead of a breakfast meeting, calmly walked down stairs and gathered in the lobby before exiting the building with about 200 people, including journalists and U.S. civilian contractors.
In one corridor, survivors waded calf-deep through water from a burst pipe.
The 11th-floor room in which an American may have died was destroyed, according to a journalist who saw the devastation. Part of the ceiling collapsed, the door was blown off, a hole was punched in the wall and smoke poured from the room.
LUCKY TO SURVIVE
Escalating guerrilla violence in Iraq has eroded President Bush's popularity among Americans worried at the rising U.S. death toll. This month Wolfowitz's boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, warned the United States faced a "long, hard slog" in Iraq.
Guerrilla attacks have targeted the United Nations, the Jordanian embassy and a hotel used by U.S. media. The attack on the Rashid was the second in a month on the hotel. Attacks on U.S. military in Iraq have killed more than 100 troops since Bush declared major combat over on May 1.
On Sunday, a U.S. military spokesman, Sgt. Danny Martin, said six to eight rockets hit the west side of the hotel.
Steve Marney, a journalist with Middle East Broadcasting based in Dubai, said the two ninth-floor rooms on either side of his were completely destroyed by the attack.
"I was a very lucky person. The rooms on both sides of me were hit," he said. "It threw me out of bed." He said the hallway was full of smoke and "it was pretty hard to see."
The hotel is part of a compound on the west bank of the Tigris river used by the U.S.-led administration. It is in a fortified complex that includes palaces built by former leader Saddam Hussein.
A Reuters photographer saw five impact holes on the west side of the hotel. He said three of the rockets appeared to have gone through the wall, the others through windows.
The whole area was sealed off and U.S. military helicopters circled the building.
On Saturday, Iraqi guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades at a Black Hawk helicopter which came down near Tikrit, wounding one American soldier. Wolfowitz had left Tikrit by helicopter for Kirkuk just hours earlier.
Wolfowitz said he was not changing his scheduled events following the attack. He faces a full day of meetings in Baghdad and a patrol of the city with a military unit, and had planned to depart late on Sunday for Washington.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd