Baghdad bombing targets Jordan

A car bomb at Jordan's embassy killed at least 11 Thursday, as attacks on US troops continue.

You don't have to be an American soldier to risk life and limb in Iraq these days.

Unknown assailants Thursday detonated an apparent car bomb in front of the Jordanian embassy in the Iraqi capital, killing at least 11 people and injuring more than 50 - none of them Americans. Most of the dead were reportedly Iraqis, including police officers guarding the embassy.

The attack constitutes the most significant attack on a "soft" or nonmilitary target since the US occupation of the country began nearly four months ago, according to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US ground forces in Iraq.

The risks to US soldiers continue. Even as General Sanchez was informing reporters that the pace of attacks against his troops had slowed, US soldiers in central Baghdad were fighting off Iraqi assailants who had attacked their Humvee with a rocket-propelled grenade. At least one American was wounded in the attack and at least one Iraqi was killed in the ensuing firefight.

On Wednesday night, assailants attacked a US patrol and killed two soldiers, ending a four-day stretch without a US combat fatality.

Jordanian officials condemned the embassy attack, which destroyed part of the compound's outer wall and littered a wide traffic median in front of the building with twisted bits of metal and some human remains. "This criminal act will only make Jordan more determined to lend a helping hand to our brothers, the Iraqi people," said Information Minister Nabil al-Sharif.

But the Iraqi people - both those opposed to the US occupation of their country and those in favor of it - have reasons to be frustrated with Jordan.

Jordan's foreign minister, Marwan Muasher, in remarks published in recent days, has indicated that his country will not recognize Iraq's Governing Council, a transitional administrative body created last month by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. "We want to see a legitimately elected and representative government," Mr. Muasher said, summarizing the views of the 22-member Arab League, according to Jordan's official Petra news agency.

Portraits torn

These comments may explain why young Iraqis ran into the embassy after the explosion, tearing down portraits of Jordan's King Abdullah II and his late father, King Hussein, according to initial news reports from the scene. The reports said that Iraqi police and US soldiers quickly dispersed the men.

Jordan's government last week also granted "humanitarian asylum" to two daughters of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a step that also could have irked Iraqis.

"We expected Amman to accept the new realities in Iraq and to cooperate with the current Iraqi leadership," said an article this week in Al Mouatmer, an Iraqi newspaper affiliated with the Iraqi National Congress, whose leader Ahmed Chalabi sits on the Governing Council. "Instead of doing what we expected them to do, Jordan has welcomed Saddam's family," the article said.

At the same time, Jordan is viewed among Arabs as an ally of the US, so the embassy bombing may represent a strike at the Americans. While Jordan resisted any overt support for the US-led war against the Hussein regime, in the end it allowed US troops to use its soil during the conflict. Jordan has also gone along with US efforts to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and in 1994 Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Outside the embassy, in the hours after the blast, bystanders were divided among those who attributed the blast to a car bomb and those who said a US helicopter had fired a missile at the building.

Sanchez said he did not know whether any US aircraft were in the skies over the embassy Thursday morning, but the debris at the scene seemed to confirm assertions that the cause of the attack was a car bomb.

'Everything was dark'

Utba al-Thakafi, an employee of the World Health Organization who had driven with a friend to the embassy to deliver some letters, was standing in the reception area when the bomb exploded. "Suddenly everything was dark," he said Thursday, standing outside the emergency room of a Baghdad hospital.

He immediately thought of his friend and ran outside to see if he was all right. Their car was demolished. "There was nothing left but the tires," Mr. Utba says. Then he saw a man standing near the car, his skin blackened, calling out "Utba, Utba."

Mr. Utba rushed him into an ambulance and the two men rode together to the hospital. Doctors told Utba that Ahmed would be OK.

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