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U.S. Military Dismisses Iraq Attacks

U.S. Military Dismisses Iraq Attacks

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- More than a dozen rockets fired from donkey carts slammed into Iraq's Oil Ministry and two hotels Friday -- attacks dismissed by a U.S. general as "militarily insignificant" but which also exposed weaknesses in gathering intelligence on insurgents.

The brazen, coordinated strikes at some of Baghdad's most heavily protected civilian sites defied a U.S. crackdown.

Two other donkeys -- one pulling a rocket launcher and another rigged to a bomb -- were found within hours, one 30 yards from the Italian Embassy. U.S. officials said the targets were the headquarters of a Kurdish political party and a law school.

A civilian contractor was seriously injured at the Palestine Hotel, where many foreign journalists and U.S. workers are staying. No other casualties were reported at the Palestine or at the Sheraton Hotel across the street, and police said no one was hurt at the ministry.

"They're trying to break our will. They're trying to seize the headlines ... but they're militarily insignificant," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military deputy director for operations, said at a news conference.

But he conceded that the insurgents were playing off American weaknesses, specifically in terms of gathering intelligence that could have prevented the attacks.

"A very clever enemy who knows that we don't have the best intelligence in the world will find some seams, will run some vulnerabilities," Kimmitt said. "But our intelligence is getting better every day."

Elsewhere, a U.S. soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division was killed and two were injured near the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Thursday when a roadside bomb exploded next to their convoy, the military said Friday. Another soldier was killed Thursday in northern Iraq, Kimmitt said.

To the south, in the city of Karbala, at least four mortar shells were fired into a Thai military camp Thursday, officials in Bangkok said Friday. They reported no casualties.

The colorful donkey carts presumably were used because they are so common in Baghdad and attract little attention from security forces on the alert for car bombs. Painted on one of the carts was a traditional inscription: "My heart is with you, my dear."

U.S. officials said one of the donkeys was strapped to a propane tank and an explosive device. After the explosions, U.S. soldiers were seen searching donkey carts around Baghdad.

"He's an inventive, ingenuous enemy, but he has shown us another of his tactics ... and I would guess he won't be using that again anytime soon," Kimmitt said.

The attacks occurred at the height of "Operation Iron Hammer," the U.S. counteroffensive against rebels in and around the capital. The U.S. commander in the capital, Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, said Thursday that the 12-day crackdown had contributed to a 70 percent decrease in rebel activity.

Kimmitt said the rocket attacks could have been intended to demonstrate that the operation hasn't defeated the rebels. Nobody claimed responsibility and there were no immediate arrests.

The attacks occurred about 7:20 a.m. At least eight rockets were fired at the Oil Ministry, but only two of them detonated, said Col. Peter Mansoor of the U.S. 1st Armored Division.

The ministry was closed Friday for the Muslim day of prayer and no injuries were reported there. A ministry official told Dow Jones Newswires that a fire was quickly extinguished and caused no major damage to the building. He said oil production would not be affected.

Mansoor said one rocket hit the Palestine Hotel, but at least five rocket holes could be seen on the eighth, 15th and 16th floors of the 18-story structure. Another rocket hit the Sheraton.

"This is the work of terrorists," said Loay Yunis Khalil, manager of the Palestine Hotel.

Employees of U.S. agencies met in the Palestine lobby for impromptu security briefings from military consultants.

At least one man, who was bleeding from his head, was carried away from the Palestine Hotel by U.S. military medics on a stretcher. Kimmitt said he was a civilian contractor and was "seriously injured."

Mansoor said the attacks bore a close resemblance to a strike last month on the Al-Rasheed Hotel, just across the Tigris River, which housed many U.S. military officials and occupation authorities. One soldier was killed at the hotel, which has since been evacuated.

Police and soldiers found a rocket launcher on Saadoun Street, which runs beside the Palestine, hidden inside a donkey cart.

Iraqi police 1st Lt. Amar Arshad said the launcher had the capacity to fire 30 rockets. It was unclear how many were launched, but five unfired rockets were in it.

The hotels are among the best-protected in Baghdad, with several security checkpoints on the approaches, blast barriers on surrounding streets and U.S. armored personnel carriers stationed outside. They stand in front of Firdaus Square, where Iraqis famously toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein on April 9.

The Palestine was shelled by a U.S. tank on April 8, killing two cameramen, one from Spain and one from Ukraine. The U.S. Army has called the shooting justified.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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