Iraqi insurgents are increasingly hitting Baghdad’s fortresslike Green Zone with rockets and mortar shells, officials said Wednesday.
Insurgents have struck inside the Green Zone, which includes the U.S. Embassy, on six of the past seven days, once with deadly consequences. A U.S. soldier and a U.S. government contractor were killed Tuesday night by a rocket attack that also seriously wounded a civilian, military and embassy officials said. One soldier and at least three other civilians received minor injuries, U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said.
The attack stunned a workforce normally blase about Baghdad’s habitual wartime booms and blasts.
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said, “There are increasing attacks on the embassy.”
“These are people who are trying to kill Americans,” the official added. “They have someone who is a straight shooter.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy did not answer calls or return e-mails seeking comment early Thursday.
The Tuesday attack was the gravest in a series that have hit the walled zone of about four square miles in recent days, U.S. officials said. Three rockets crashed down Wednesday, Fintor said. Two attacks, coming two hours apart, hit Monday. The zone was also hit Saturday and Sunday, officials said. At least 10 people were wounded in those attacks.
A week ago, a rocket attack landed about 100 yards from the Green Zone residence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, jolting the room where he was holding a news conference with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Ten rocket and mortar attacks have struck inside the heavily protected sector this month, according to the U.S. military. Most have hit in the past week.
Military and embassy officials would not say where the weapons landed, citing security reasons.
“It’s clear that there have been increasing targeting attacks against the international zone,” Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said at a news conference. The increased use of mortars and rockets is a “change in tactics,” he said, and part of an overall strategy to disrupt the government and incite sectarian violence.
The Green Zone is regularly targeted with airborne weapons. Insurgents can launch rockets and mortars from miles away, using Global Positioning System coordinates to guide the missiles toward their marks. But the attacks have not often caused serious injuries.
Wednesday morning, embassy personnel received a bulletin citing the “recent increase of indirect fire attacks on the embassy compound.” It included strict instructions: Body armor and helmets would now be required for all “outdoor activities” within the sprawling embassy complex, even short walks to the cafeteria. There would be no group gatherings outside, including at the famed Palace Pool. No “nonessential” visitors would be allowed in the compound.
A U.S. official in Baghdad characterized embassy personnel as “anxious and alert.”
Fadhil Shuweili, an adviser to Iraq’s minister of state for national security, said most rockets and mortars targeting the Green Zone are believed to come from Sunni areas on the outskirts of Baghdad.
In an e-mail, Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, said the military forces are “aware of the current threat and are taking both active and passive measures to reduce the risk to our personnel.” He did not describe the measures.
Wright reported from Washington. Correspondent Joshua Partlow in Baghdad, staff researcher Robert E. Thomason and staff writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Washington contributed to this report.