March 21, 2004

Rockets Hit Upscale Baghdad Neighborhood, Killing 4

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

New York Times

BAGHDAD, March 21 — American military officials said four people were killed and 10 wounded in a rocket attack on a posh Baghdad neighborhood today.

One rocket landed in a busy street, shattering the windows of beauty salons and ripping into passing cars. Witnesses said a mother and her two children who were riding in the back of a taxi were seriously wounded.

"This woman, she was going crazy," said Nasser Qasim, an advertising manager who works down the street from where the rocket exploded. "She stepped out of the taxi with her arm gone and her kids bleeding. It was like she didn't know where she was."

Two other rockets landed nearby, coming close to the heavily fortified headquarters of the occupation authorities but not seriously injuring anyone, said Army Lt. Col. Randall C. Lane. The headquarters is often targeted by mortar and rocket fire, though more times than not the salvos miss and sail into nearby neighborhoods.

"It's unfortunate, but all the victims today were Iraqi civilians," Colonel Lane said.

Iraqi security officials said the rockets might have been aimed at the newly refurbished International Fair Grounds, which will play host to a major trade exposition in April with hundreds of foreign and Iraqi businesses.

The rocket that exploded in the street landed just feet from the fair grounds' gate.

"They were just practicing," said Oday Ali, a police officer. "It's a good thing this happened now, while the place is empty."

Also, the streets in the Mansoor neighborhood were less busy today than they usually are because Sunday was a national holiday in Iraq marking the first day of spring.

At Yarmuk Hospital, several victims sat up in bed comparing shrapnel wounds.

Heider Hassan, 23, rubbed a bandage on his arm and shook his head.

"I guess I'm lucky," he said.

He did not look it.

Next to him, a boy lay in shock with his eyes wide open.

"Wake up! Wake up!" a doctor yelled.

The attack followed another rocket strike on Saturday night against American forces in western Iraq that killed two soldiers and wounded six.

Also today, dozens of Arab journalists marched in front of the occupation headquarters to protest the deaths of two Iraqi journalists who were killed last week in a nighttime shooting at an American military checkpoint. Many Iraqi journalists say the deaths were intentional while American authorities have said they were not deliberate.

As they marched, distraught journalists held up pictures of their two dead colleagues and banners that read: "Mr. Ambassador, who will sue the killers?" and "Our pens are mightier than your weapons."

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for occupying military forces, said military police are continuing to investigate the incident, one of many recent shootings at military checkpoints.

General Kimmitt said military investigators had accounted for all but two bullets fired by American forces that night. But he said the car the journalists were riding in was hit by five bullets. The discrepancy, General Kimmitt implied, might mean someone besides American soldiers also fired bullets that night.

"We're looking into it," he said.

A senior American official disclosed today that complaints from American soldiers triggered the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's largest prison, which resulted in charges against six soldiers on Saturday. The six soldiers, all members of the military police, face charges of conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another person.

The information that prompted the investigation came from "within the U.S. military," the senior officer said. "It was not brought forth by detainees themselves."

The 6 are among 17 Americans — including a battalion commander and a company commander — who were suspended from normal duty last month after accusations surfaced that American soldiers beat and tortured Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.