BAGHDAD – At least nine mortar rounds or rockets exploded inside the fortified Green Zone Thursday, in what’s become a near-daily demonstration of the limitations of the U.S.-led security crackdown and militants’ resolve to rain terror on even the most protected area of Baghdad.
The U.S. military announced the deaths of 14 American troops over the past two days, including five slain Thursday in a roadside bombing in Baghdad that also killed four Iraqis.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, 18 civilians were killed and more than 70 wounded when a gunman rammed a truck bomb into a municipal building in the Suleiman Bek area, destroying the building and damaging neighboring homes.
The barrage of seven rockets that hit the Green Zone in the morning sent scores of civilians and military personnel scurrying for cover inside boxlike concrete bunkers stationed near checkpoints. There were no casualties.
Two other mortar rounds or rockets struck the zone at about 10 p.m. No information about damage or casualties was available from U.S. officials.
At least one shell or rocket reportedly struck a parking lot used by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his security detail. Others struck the American-manned Ibn Sina hospital and a base used by multinational forces. At least one of the blasts burned several cars.
U.S. officials declined to say where the explosions struck or if they were mortars or rockets. Smoke plumes visible for miles rose from the compound, while U.S. military helicopters chopped the sky in an apparent effort to locate firing positions.
Rockets and mortar fire aren’t new to the Green Zone, or International Zone, as U.S. and Iraqi officials call it. But the frequency of attacks is. Despite more troops and security measures, the rockets and mortars keep falling on what’s become Baghdad’s biggest target.
Almost every day this week, mortars and rockets have slammed into the 3.5-square-mile fortress in central Baghdad, home to Iraqi government offices and the U.S. and British embassies. About 1,000 U.S. State Department staffers work and live in the Green Zone.
McClatchy Newspapers has reported that many of the U.S. personnel, housed in trailers or containerized housing units there, are worried for their safety but are afraid to leave for fear of derailing their careers. They’ve demanded that the State Department or the Pentagon build more substantial housing to replace the trailers most workers sleep in.
A June 5 report by the United Nations mission in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council said the U.N. has moved much of its staff into “more hardened accommodation facilities” in response to the increase in rocket and mortar fire.
The report said that rockets and mortar fire had struck the Green Zone more than 80 times since March, reportedly killing at least 26 people. It said the attacks had increased steadily, from 17 in March to 30 in April to 39 in the first 22 days of May, the last day for which the U.N. had figures.