BAGHDAD, Iraq—In some of the worst rioting since Baghdad fell last year, hundreds of Iraqis threw stones at U.S. soldiers, burned an American flag, danced around the charred body of a foreign contractor and looted a handful of stores Monday in downtown Baghdad.
The outburst of rage came after a suicide car bomber crashed into a convoy of three sport utility vehicles carrying Westerners just after 8 a.m., killing at least 10 Iraqis and wounding more than 50, according to doctors at three hospitals. There were five foreigners killed and three wounded in the blasts.
A General Electric spokeswoman confirmed that the five dead comprised three employees of Granite Services—a GE company—and two security workers. Officials in Baghdad said that among the five were two Britons, two Americans and a Frenchman.
The front side of a two-story building that contained shops and apartments was left in rubble, and at least seven cars were charred and blasted by shrapnel.
There have been at least 15 car bombings in Iraq so far this month. And while such bombings once commonly targeted buildings such as U.S. military bases and Iraqi police stations, recently there have been several kamikaze-like strikes at convoys of Iraqi police, Western contractors and coalition soldiers.
The violence comes as the country is counting down the days to June 30, when U.S. officials will hand over sovereignty to a recently formed Iraqi government.
"It is an unfortunate and cowardly incident that happened today," Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said. "Five civilians have been killed and another three civilians severely injured. These people have been helping Iraq to rebuild its power stations and reconstruct its electricity and power generation. Additionally, a number of Iraqis have been also killed and injured. We deplore this terrorist act and vow to get the criminals to justice as soon as possible."
Despite Allawi's words of assurance, the scene on the street suggested that popular revulsion against the U.S. occupation and the government is growing. The rioting in Baghdad's Tahrir Square lasted for hours.
When American soldiers from the 1st Calvary Division arrived in a handful of Humvees, they were quickly surrounded by Iraqis chanting, "Down! Down! USA" and "Down! Down! With the new government!" A crowd on one flank threw rock after rock, surging forward until the soldiers advanced, M-16 rifles raised.
A group of soldiers tackled one man, dragging him away from the crowd. Two other soldiers made obscene gestures involving their middle fingers.
After about two hours, the soldiers drove off, leaving behind a group of Iraqi policemen, who soon evacuated the area.
For a few minutes, a lone Iraqi police pickup was stuck in the middle of the crowd. An officer stepped out of the vehicle and shot his 9 mm pistol into the sky. No one paid any attention, and he quickly got back in and drove away.
The screams of "Yes! Yes! Muqtada Sadr" seemed to last forever. Al-Sadr is a firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric whose militia has fought with U.S. soldiers in Najaf and the Baghdad slum of Sadr City. It seemed clear, though, that his name was being used as an anti-America rallying cry as much as anything else.
By noon, the area had been secured by swarms of Humvees, tanks and a long row of American soldiers wearing riot gear and carrying shields.
One of the looted stores carried a brand of Jordanian beer, and much of the crowd grabbed cans of "Philadelphia Beer" and hurled them into the fires leaping from the SUVs, cheering when the cans popped like gunfire. Two men outside the shop fought each other, one with a knife and the other a screwdriver, over a case of the brew.
A group of men danced around a dead man pulled from one of the vehicles. People grabbed some of the beer and poured it over the body. A man waved what looked like a British passport in the air, laughing and pumping his fist.
Hospitals were crammed with the wounded and dying.
"It is not acceptable to Allah. I don't think any human being with a conscience would accept this," said Mohammed Abdul Kadir, 71, who was angry over the attack on the convoy. He was knocked to the ground by the blast and half-buried by bricks from a falling building.
"Look around me. Look at these people," Kadir said, pointing to men whose clothes, like his, were splattered with blood.
Across town, in another hospital, Bassim Mutashir, 20, sat on a bed next to his cousin. The two men, construction workers from Hilla, had come to Baghdad five days earlier to look for work.
Mutashir's head was bandaged and he was in pain.
"With the new Iraqi government, the situation will stay the same and the people will never feel safe," he said.
His cousin lay next to him, unconscious, with several serious shrapnel wounds. A doctor walked up and looked at the two for a long moment before speaking.
"Our surgery room is full," he said. "You'll have to go to another hospital."
Mutashir said he was afraid his cousin would be dead by day's end.
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ