The man with the missiles was driving a white Toyota and pulled up in the leafy Baghdad suburb of Salhaya at 6.35 yesterday morning. Those who saw him said he climbed very calmly out of the car and placed a large battery on the road. Then he took seven rockets from the back seat and laid them on the tarmac. Using the battery as a ramp, he fired the first missile at the Rashid Hotel, fortress home to many of the senior American officials of the occupation authorities.
Rocket number one smashed into the bedroom of an Iraqi house on the corner of the street, showering the building in concrete but leaving its occupants without injuries. Rockets two and three, however, swished off towards the Rashid and exploded in the garden of the former five-star hotel whose perimeter is now surrounded by 20ft-high concrete walls, miles of barbed wire and several Bradley armoured vehicles.
Later reports suggested that the man had fired mortars rather than rockets but one eyewitness described how – after firing the third rocket – the man left four more missiles lying on the road and then drove away as slowly and calmly as he arrived. Dozens of American troops arrived in the street minutes later but their attacker was gone, his missiles killing no one but making headlines round the world. The message was obvious: now even the very centre of the US occupation, the most fortified compound in Iraq with the Rashid, the former Presidential Palace – now home to US proconsul, Paul Bremer – and a conference centre, is unsafe.
From outside Baghdad, meanwhile, from the Sunni town of Fallujah came a familiar story. The US army announced it had killed two Iraqis who failed to stop at a checkpoint during the night. Local hospital doctors said the Americans had killed four innocent men. Fallujah is the town where US troops gunned down 16 Iraqi demonstrators in April and eight Iraqi policeman and a Jordanian hospital guard earlier this month.
US-led occupation troops should leave Iraq and be replaced by an international force charged with protecting the country, the president of Iraq’s Governing Council said yesterday. Ahmad Chalabi also told the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat that a UN resolution to send peace-keepers would signal the end to Iraq’s occupation.
“We do not want an occupation force in Iraq,” he said. “But we want an international force to remain in order to protect Iraq from any external dangers, the same as happens in several Arab countries.”
Mr Chalabi added that US officials had told him privately that America wanted to withdraw its forces from Iraq as soon as 2004.