BAGHDAD, Iraq—A suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives outside the United Nations headquarters Monday in Baghdad, killing himself and an Iraqi policeman and wounding 17 people, officials and witnesses said.
The attack was the second on the U.N. compound, which was devastated last month when a large truck bomb killed 23 people, including the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, and wounded more than 100.
Iraqi militants have used bombings and assassinations in an apparent campaign to convince Iraqis that the U.S.-led coalition can't keep them secure, to punish Iraqis who cooperate with the American-led occupation, and to discourage other nations from sending their officials and soldiers to assist the United Nations or the United States.
Monday's incident took place a day before President Bush was set to speak to the U.N. General Assembly in New York to appeal for more international aid and foreign troops for Iraq.
The bomber detonated an explosive device just after 8 a.m. as police were conducting a security check on his vehicle in a parking lot about 250 yards away from U.N. headquarters, Iraqi police, military officials and witnesses said. Many foreign U.N. workers have left Iraq, but the remaining staff had continued to work at the headquarters, in a former hotel.
"The bomber couldn't get into the compound, so he changed his target to civilians outside the building," said Capt. Sean Kirley, a spokesman for the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment, which secured the area after the blast. "It was in a parking lot where the Iraqi police congregate before they go to work."
No group claimed responsibility. A policeman who was badly injured in the attack said he spotted the bomber just before the blast.
"I was 2 to 3 meters away, and there was a very big explosion," Haider Khalid Ibrahim, 21, said as he lay in his bed at Yarmouk hospital, one eye covered in a bloody bandage, one leg broken, his body laced with shrapnel wounds. "I am sure he was an Iraqi."
Other witnesses said the bomber was driving a red Opel, the last in a line of a half-dozen cars waiting to get into the parking lot. A policeman approached the car and asked him to open the trunk. As the policeman was looking inside, the car blew up. The driver had made no attempt to flee.
"I was with my cousin, and he was waiting to go inside the U.N. building," said Haider Hussein, 18. "I saw police searching the cars. The red Opel was the last one. When they searched it, it blew up. I was so afraid, I ran away and left my shoes. But now I don't know where my cousin is or even if he is alive."
Most of the injured were members of the U.S.-trained Facilities Protection Service, an Iraqi force charged with providing security at government property and other crucial sites.
U.S. military police sealed off the blast site as ambulances took away the dead and wounded. About three hours after the attack, coalition investigators and Iraqi police poked through the wreckage, snapping photos and looking for clues as to who might have carried it out. The burned-out chassis of the car sat wheels up in a crumpled heap. A severed human arm lay with the debris.
In a short statement, Douglas Brand, the senior coalition adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, condemned the bombing as an attack on innocent Iraqis.
"This is a rather cowardly attack, but it will not keep the coalition forces nor the Iraqi people from stabilizing the country," he said.
It was the latest in a string of deadly terrorist bombings, including a truck bomb at the Jordanian embassy Aug. 7 that killed 19 people; the U.N. bombing 12 days later; a massive car bomb Aug. 29 in the southern city of Najaf that killed a leading Shiite Muslim cleric and 77 other people; a car bomb outside Baghdad's police headquarters Sept. 2 that killed one officer and wounded more than 24 others; and a suicide car bombing Sept. 10 in the northern town of Irbil that killed three Iraqis and wounded four American intelligence officers.
It followed the attempted assassination Saturday of Akila al Hashimi, one of three women on Iraq's Governing Council and a former high-ranking diplomat in Saddam Hussein's regime. Ambushed by gunmen as she left her home, she was shot in the shoulder, leg and abdomen. She remained in critical but stable condition at a U.S. military hospital.
Last week, the U.S.-backed police chief in the town of Khaldiyah, about 45 miles west of Baghdad, was shot and killed, reportedly by militants who accused him of collaborating with U.S. forces. Khaldiyah lies in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" of Iraq, where attacks on American soldiers are frequent, support for Saddam's former regime is strong, and Iraqi militants and foreign extremists are believed to have found haven among some elements of the population.
With many local U.N. staff and nearby residents still reeling from last month's bombing, Monday's blast brought a renewed sense of horror.
"It's more difficult now than during the war itself," said Hanan Yasin, 36, a field manager for the World Food Program, her face ashen with shock after witnessing the explosion. "We feel that we're more of a target these days. It isn't safe at all. Right now, I plan to continue in my job, but if you ask me tomorrow, maybe I will say no."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030922 UN Iraq blast