U.N. workers were told to stay home after a cement truck packed with explosives blew up outside the offices of U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello on Tuesday. The unprecedented attack against the world body killed 20 people, including Vieira de Mello, and wounded at least 100 people.
After an all-night effort to find survivors, the rescue operation appeared to have turned into a grim search for the bodies of the many people unaccounted for at the heavily damaged U.N. headquarters.
U.S. soldiers maintained a large presence in the area and Army trucks came and went from the compound. Heavy machinery pulled up the smashed pieces of the building, strewn akimbo by the blast.
L. Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, said Wednesday it has not yet been determined whether it was a suicide attack and he does not believe the bombing is connected to acts of sabotage on an oil pipeline and on Baghdad's water supply. BEGIN POSITION 3 END POSITION 3
"My own view, but it's very preliminary, these are probably not yet connected," Bremer told ABC's "Good Morning America." "They appear to be the acts of at least disciplined people. Whether they're centrally coordinated has not yet been shown."
But Bremer said the United States believes that more than 100 foreign terrorists are in Iraq. Some used passports and travel documents from Syria, Sudan and Yemen, he said.
"Quite a number" of others are members of Ansar al-Islam, an al-Qaida-linked terror group considered by the United States "to be one of the world's more dangerous groups," Bremer told ABC. The group was operating in northern Iraq before the war.
Bremer later told CNN the attack was "of a different scale than the ones we've seen here before," suggesting it could have been the work of the former Iraqi regime, including Saddam Hussein's militia.
"It does not mean ... that we can exclude the possibility that the Fedayeen Saddam or some of the old Saddam guys did it," Bremer said. "They had very substantial explosives capabilities in parts of their intelligence services, and it's not impossible that it was done by them."
Annan said he was to meet with the Security Council later Wednesday to discuss security arrangements for U.N. workers in Iraq.
"We will persevere. We will continue. It is essential work," he said at a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where he stopped briefly before heading to U.N. headquarters in New York. "We will not be intimidated."
In Britain, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he had spoken to Secretary of State Colin Powell about giving the United Nations a bigger role after the attack. "We are very open-minded about that," he added.
Iraq's Governing Council condemned the attack and declared three days of mourning for those who died, council member Ahmad Chalabi told reporters. The council also promised to dedicate a monument to Vieira de Mello, he added.
Council members said they believed the truck bombing was committed by members of Saddam's ousted regime with the help of militants from outside Iraq.
"There is a feeling, based on accumulated data from the past, that it is the remnants of Saddam's regime and their friends (behind the attack)," Chalabi said, indicating he was including al-Qaida by using the word friends.
A cement truck detonated at the concrete wall outside the three-story Canal Hotel at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, blasting a 6-foot-deep crater in the ground, shredding the facade of the hotel housing U.N. offices and stunning an organization that had been welcomed by many Iraqis in contrast to the U.S.-led occupation forces.
U.N. officials at the headquarters had refused heavy security - aside from the recently built concrete wall - because the United Nations "did not want a large American presence outside," said Salim Lone, the U.N. spokesman in Baghdad.
Fifteen bodies in white bags were counted by a U.N. worker at the hotel, and a survey of Baghdad hospitals by The Associated Press found five other people killed in the blast. Veronique Taveau, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator, said the U.N. figure for the dead was 17 and 100 people were wounded.
"There are so many people who are still missing," she said.
Taveau said the United Nations had temporarily suspended operations Wednesday and that travel arrangements were being made for employees wanting to leave the country.
Iraqis who work for the United Nations were told to stay home. Foreign workers were directed to lodgings scattered in many small hotels around the capital.
Vieira de Mello, who had left his job as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to go to Iraq on temporary assignment, was meeting with other U.N. officials when the explosion struck. A news conference was also under way in the building, where 300 U.N. employees had worked.
The 55-year-old veteran diplomat from Brazil was wounded and trapped in the rubble, and workers gave him water as they tried to extricate him. Hours later, the United Nations announced his death.
In Geneva on Wednesday, U.N. staff sealed Vieira de Mello's private office in the lakeside headquarters of the human rights office and attached a photograph of him to the door. Staff placed flowers and a candle in front of the door next to a pale blue U.N. flag.
U.N. and U.S. officials called the bombing a "terrorist attack," but there was no immediate claim of responsibility. The bombing came nearly two weeks after a car exploded and killed 19 people at the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad.
Like the remote-controlled explosion at the Jordan Embassy, the suicide bombing on the U.N. headquarters focused on a high-profile target with many civilians inside and resembled attacks blamed on Islamic militants elsewhere in the world. It was far more sophisticated than the guerrilla attacks that have plagued U.S. forces, which have been hit-and-run shootings carried out by small bands or remote-control roadside bombs.
As FBI agents joined the investigation, 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.
He said it was "much too early" to say if Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network was behind the attack. "We don't have that kind of evidence yet."
U.S. forces have focused on trying to put down Saddam loyalists thought to be behind the anti-American guerrilla campaign. But the military has also warned of foreign Islamic militants slipping into the country and has said an al-Qaida linked group, Ansar al-Islam, was a possible suspect in the Jordanian Embassy bombing.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in Baghdad that the truck did not breach the wall around the hotel. He said the truck was parked on an access road just outside the compound.
In a separate attack, insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. convoy Wednesday, killing a civilian working for the occupation force and injuring two soldiers, U.S. Maj. Brian Luke said.
The civilian contract worker was the second killed this month in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown. Luke said it was not immediately known whom he worked for.