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Baghdad Newspaper Building Assaulted by Suicide Bomber

By Paul Von Zielbauer
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

A suicide car bomber attacked Iraq’s largest newspaper on Sunday, detonating his vehicle inside its fortified compound in downtown Baghdad and killing two people and injuring 20 others, the executive editor and government officials said.

The bombing was part of a violent day across Iraq in which explosions and gun battles killed at least 52 people, including a U.S. soldier.

In Baghdad, a bomb planted in a commuter bus blew up near the pedestrian entrance of a downtown hotel, killing nine people and wounding 20 others, and a convoy ferrying a deputy defense minister came under heavy gunfire that wounded two bodyguards, government officials said.

The bombing of Al-Sabah, a national newspaper financed by the Shiite-led Iraqi government, also destroyed more than a dozen vehicles and caused the collapse of a quarter of the building where journalists and printing-press operators work, said the executive editor, Falah al-Mishaal.

The attack occurred about 8:30 a.m. Guards carrying automatic assault rifles grew suspicious of the vehicle after it had been cleared to enter the newspaper’s parking lot, al-Mishaal said in an interview. Before the bomber could be killed, he blew up his vehicle, sending at least two parked cars through the building’s wall.

“Tomorrow we will return to work again,” al-Mishaal said.

The attack was the second on Al-Sabah — which means “morning” in Arabic — in three months. On May 6, a suicide bomber in a car set off an explosion at the newspaper’s main vehicle checkpoint, killing one person and wounding several others, al-Mishaal said.

He blamed the attacks on Iraqi insurgent and foreign terrorist groups, including the successor group to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed in an American airstrike in June.

“We have received many threats from Zarqawi’s assistant,” al-Mishaal said. “We published them in the newspaper.”

He said he believed that the bombing on Sunday was also in retaliation for a meeting of Iraqi television and newspaper editors organized by his newspaper this month where the editors were to sign a “pledge of honor” to respect the government’s reconciliation efforts and to avoid printing or broadcasting inflammatory statements or violent images.

“This is an attack against all Iraqi media,” al-Mishaal said in a telephone interview. “It is a kind of challenge and an attempt to get rid of all free Iraqi media.”

At least 16 journalists working for Al-Sabah and a government-run Baghdad television station have been killed since 2003, media executives here said.

In a statement, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki “strongly denounced” the attack on Al-Sabah, which he called “a pioneering media organization confronting terror, serving the truth and consolidating unity and national coherence.” Furthermore, he vowed to capture the people behind it.

And yet, in remarks closely following similarly upbeat statements by U.S. military officials in Baghdad, the prime minister also sought to lend optimism to his government’s efforts to bring security to Baghdad and other parts of the country, and to rule out the possibility of civil war.