Truck bomb kills at least 20 in Iraq

| 8/20/2003

A suicide attacker set off a truck bomb Aug. 19 outside the hotel housing the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, U.S. officials said. At least 20 U.N. workers and Iraqis were killed, including the chief U.N. official in Iraq, and 100 were wounded, The Associated Press reported.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, a 55-year-old veteran Brazilian diplomat who was nearing the end of his four-month mission, was in his office when the explosion ripped through the building about 4:30 p.m. and was trapped in the rubble.

U.N. officials said 15 people were killed and 100 wounded. A survey of Baghdad hospitals by The Associated Press found 20 people killed, including 14 U.N. workers.

According to two witnesses, a cement truck exploded at a concrete wall outside the Canal Hotel, where the U.N. was based in the city, but there were conflicting reports about whether the truck was parked or trying to drive through the security barrier.

An AP reporter counted 40 wounded people lying in the front garden and receiving first aid. Some were loaded into a helicopter while others were led away by soldiers.

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who is rebuilding the Iraqi police force, told reporters that evidence suggested the attack was a suicide bombing.

"There was an enormous amount of explosives in what we believed to be a large truck," Kerik added.

A U.S. official speaking anonymously estimated the amount of explosives was double that used in the attack on the Jordanian embassy almost two weeks ago, in which 19 people were killed.

Meanwhile President Bush, at his ranch in Texas, condemned today's truck bombing, calling the attackers "enemies of the civilized world."

Several members of the U.S. Congress were in Baghdad touring military sites when the explosion happened – and were scheduled to tour the U.N. facility sometime later in the day. None was hurt.