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Rockets hit two hotels in Baghdad

U.S. soldier dies in Iraq convoy bombing

Black Hawk helicopters of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airbone Division patrol in central Iraq.
Black Hawk helicopters of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airbone Division patrol in central Iraq.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Two adjacent hotels in central Baghdad were rocked by explosions early Friday, apparently the result of rocket attacks.

Witnesses said at least two rockets hit the upper floors of the Palestine Hotel, where CNN is based.

One person was carried from the hotel on a stretcher, soaked in blood, according to video of the scene. At least two other people were also injured.

The nearby Sheraton Hotel also appeared to have been attacked about the same time, also with rockets.

Shortly after the attacks, what appeared to be a type of multiple-rocket launcher was found a short distance away from the hotels with several unfired rockets found spilled on the ground next to it.

Both hotels are heavily guarded with coalition forces, surrounded by tanks and concrete barriers.

CNN staff said they could see damage to the 12th, 15th and 16th floors of the 18-story building from the attack that took place about 7:10 a.m. (11:10 p.m. ET).

The hotels host many international journalists staying in the Iraqi capital, as well as many Western contractors.

Video from inside the hotel showed debris scattered through an elevator lobby and large holes in the wall.

On Thursday, a U.S. soldier was killed and two others wounded when a homemade bomb struck their convoy east of the central Iraqi city of Ramadi, U.S.-led coalition officials said.

Ramadi, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Baghdad, also was the scene of a bombing late Wednesday in which at least two people died. It was one of two insurgent attacks apparently targeting Iraqi leaders.

A second blast killed five bystanders Thursday outside a Kurdish party's office in the northern city of Kirkuk.

The strikes came amid a U.S. military campaign against anti-coalition targets. On Wednesday, troops killed 10 people who ambushed a coalition civilian convoy south of Samarra, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey of the 1st Armored Division said that Operation Iron Hammer, one of several offensives against insurgent targets, is making progress.

"I'd say that [from] the period prior to Operation Iron Hammer to now, the attacks are down about 70 percent, and we are working as hard as we can now to drive it to zero," Dempsey said.

In the soldier's death, a five-vehicle convoy was traveling near Ramadi when the bombing occurred, the Coalition Press Information Center said.

It followed a massive car bombing Wednesday at the Ramadi home of local tribe leader Sheikh Majeed.

At least two people died, according to coalition officials, but Iraqi police said eight Iraqis died, including some of the tribal leader's relatives. He was unharmed, police said.

Police said they suspect the attack was intended for Sheikh Amer Abduljabbar Ali Suleiman, who lives next door. Suleiman is head of the huge Dulaimi tribe in Al-Anbar province.

A U.S. military observation post in Ramadi witnessed the attack, described as a large explosion, a coalition official said. A vehicle rigged with nearly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of explosives was suspected to have caused the attack, the official said.

Troops who rushed to the scene said the outer wall of a guesthouse had collapsed, resulting in many casualties. Seven people in adjoining homes also were injured, the coalition official said.

The coalition plans to put Iraqi police in charge of Ramadi's security by the beginning of next year, according to Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

In Kirkuk, a car bomb detonated Thursday morning outside the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a Kurdish political group, killing five bystanders, wounding more than 10 others and damaging the building, according to PUK official Barham Salih.

Among the dead were a schoolteacher and two schoolchildren, officials said.

The PUK is one of the two leading Kurdish groups in Iraq. It is headed by Jalal Talabani, who currently is chairman of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. The other top Kurdish group in Iraq is the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Two people who fled the scene were apprehended and face questioning, local authorities said.

Qubad Talabani, Jalal's son, said the PUK believes it was targeted because it has been involved in rooting out Ansar al-Islam, a group linked to al Qaeda, and al Qaeda affiliates in the country.

"We are at the center of the war on terrorism with al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam," he said.

"We are appalled at what happened because those who were killed were innocent civilians -- women and children," he said. "This just goes to show that these are terrorists who are trying to stall the progress of democracy and civil society being built in Iraq and Kurdistan."

London protesters call for end to war

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair condemn the attacks in Turkey at a Thursday news conference in London.
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair condemn the attacks in Turkey at a Thursday news conference in London.

Tens of thousands of people cheered Thursday in London's Trafalgar Square as protesters pulled down an effigy of President Bush -- an echo of the toppling of a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad in April.

Demonstrators marched from the University of London past Parliament and the prime minister's residence to the square, waving posters with slogans such as "Yee-hah is not a foreign policy" and shouting the phrase "anti-Bush, anti-Blair, anti-war, everywhere."

Police estimated that between 100,000 and 110,000 people participated in the protests.

In Britain for an official state visit, Bush met Thursday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at his Downing Street residence.

The meeting coincided with news of bombings in Istanbul, Turkey, that killed more than two dozen people, including the British consul general, and wounded hundreds more.

At a news conference, the two leaders condemned the blasts that hit a London-based bank and the British Consulate in Istanbul. (Full story)

Blair said the attacks showed how important it was for coalition forces to continue their mission in places such as Iraq.

"We stay until the job gets done," said Blair, who has been Bush's closest ally in the Iraq war.

Bush agreed, saying whatever troop level was needed in Iraq would be maintained.

"The nature of the terrorists is evidenced once again -- we see their utter contempt for innocent life," Bush said. "They hate freedom; they hate free nations."

Other developments

• Two schoolchildren were killed in Karbala Thursday after a child between 10 and 12 found an explosive device on the school yard and brought it into the classroom, where it exploded, a coalition spokesman said. An unknown number of children were wounded in what the spokesman termed a "sad accident." The explosion was not terrorism-related, the spokesman said.

• The U.S. military is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of Saddam's former top deputy, who is believed to be behind many of the insurgent attacks in Iraq. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is the second most-wanted Iraqi behind Saddam. On Sunday, U.S. soldiers used rockets to destroy al-Douri's house.

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