The Hotel damage caused by the rockets

Additional Reporting By Subhy Haddad, IOL Correspondent

BAGHDAD, October 26 ( & News Agencies) – U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz escaped uninjured early Sunday, October 26, when several heavy rockets hit the landmark Rashid hotel in Baghdad, killing at least one U.S. soldier and injuring 15 others.

“Deputy defense secretary Wolfowitz escaped all right,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted an occupation official as speaking, who put at 29 the number of the rocket-propelled grenades.

A senior police officer, Captain Ghanim Alwan from Al-Salhiya Police Centre not far from Al-Rashid Hotel, told IOL that 9 out of the 20 Katusha rockets were launched at the hotel and the police found the rocket-launcher with the remaining unfired rockets.

“The attack, launched from Al-Zeitun Street some 3km to the northeast of Al-Rashid Hotel, had injured two Iraqi policemen guarding the hotel, as well as an unspecified number of other occupants of the hotel,” Captain Alwan said.

However, Eyewitnesses and U.S. officials told IOL that at between 6-8 Katusha rockets hit the hotel at 06:10 local time (03:00 GMT), causing damage to its building and wounding at least 6 people, including an Iraqi translator working with the U.S.-led occupation.

Al-Jazeera satellite channel showed footage of two impacts, one on the side of the building and another on one of the facades where windows appeared shattered.

Two gaping holes were seen in a seventh-floor balcony and windows were completely shattered between the third and ninth floors.

The hotel is in an area sealed off with heavy security inside the main centre of operation of the U.S.-led occupation ruling Iraq.

Although its physical impact was minimal, that attack made headlines because it targeted a heavily fortified center of U.S. activity since the downfall of Baghdad in April 2003.

On September 27, the Rashid hotel was hit by three homemade mortar bombs or rockets that left no casualties and only minor damage.

The Rashid Hotel, built in 1983 with 14 floors and 400 rooms, used to house most of the foreign press, diplomats and many visiting Western businessmen before U.S.-led forces invaded the country in March 2003.

A mosaic of former U.S. president George Bush, who led the campaign that chased Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991, used to adorn the floor at the entrance, bearing the legend “The Criminal.”

But since the overthrow of Saddam in April, the picture is gone and the hotel houses officials of the occupying forces. It stands next to the Baghdad convention center, where the military press offices are located.

Minister Attacked

Wolfowitz escaped the attack uninjured

In another development, the house of the newly appointed Iraqi Interior Minister, Nouri Badran, came under attack about the same time of the attack on Rashid Hotel, at 06:00 (03:00 GMT).

A police spokesman told IOL that Badran, who was at home at the time of the attack, escaped uninjured, giving no further details.

The past 24 hours have witnessed a number of raids on the U.S. and British troops in different parts of Iraq.

Apart from a U.S. helicopter that was shot down by Iraqi fighters at the northern town of Tikrit that injured six of its occupants Saturday, a U.S. tank came under attack in the northern Baghdad district of Al-Khadra’a, but did not cause any casualty.

A U.S. convoy came under attack at Al-Khaidiya town, some 90 km to the west of Baghdad on Saturday, wounding five U.S. soldiers and destroying one of their armored vehicles.

At the town of Fallujah, some 65km west of Baghdad, another U.S. convoy was attacked also Saturday, killing a translator and an Iraqi policeman, eyewitnesses said.

The town of Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, witnessed an RPG raid Saturday on a U.S. convoy, wounding six soldiers.

At the southern Iraqi port-city of Basra, some 520 km south of Baghdad, a British convoy was attacked, leaving one soldier dead and wounding another, according to eyewitnesses.

Baath Revival

In another development, a number of leading cadres of the dissolved Baath Socialist Party (ABSP) were reported to have formed a provisional leadership for the party, including former Republican Guards officers, IOL learnt.

According to a statement distributed by the self-declared leadership among diplomatic missions in the Iraqi capital, the move is aimed as “leading resistance operations against the Americans and Zionists.”

The statement ordered the assassination of 15 members of Iraq’s U.S.-selected Governing Council, including Aqila Al-Hashimy who died in August 2003 of her wounds after an assassination attempt.