Insurgents Attack Baghdad Hotels

Published July 02, 2004

| FoxNews.com

Two prominent Baghdad hotels were the targets of rebel-launched rocket attacks Friday, but no one was killed and only one person was reported wounded.

One rocket struck the Sheraton Hotel on Firdous Square (search) in central Baghdad. Another exploded near the Baghdad Hotel (search), used by Western security contractors.

The Sheraton rocket caused minor damage to the building. The missile that went off near the Baghdad Hotel injured one man.

"This is the sixth time that the Sheraton hotel has been hit since August," said Hussein Hadi, the night shift manager there. "They think we have American troops here, (but) it's a civilian hotel. We have companies who have come to help reconstruct Iraq."

Firdous Square is where a statue of Saddam Hussein (search) was hauled down on April 9, 2003, in what became one of the defining images of the U.S.-led invasion.

The attacks occurred a day after Saddam made a defiant court appearance to hear charges of war crimes and genocide against him. Some Iraqis questioned whether the court proceedings against him had come too early in the process of Iraq's political transition.

"This is not the time," said Mohammed Mahdi, watching with several co-workers at a hotel. "Yes, he needs to be brought to justice. But the country has too many other problems now that should be fixed first."

Also Friday, FOX News confirmed that a Pakistani truck driver who had been held hostage in Iraq called his family to tell them he'd been released.

The man spoke to his mother and uncle by phone and was still reported to be in Iraq. No other details were immediately available.

Meanwhile, in an encouraging sign, Jordan's King Abdullah II said Thursday that his country might become the first Arab state to send troops to Iraq. Abdullah told the British Broadcasting Corp. "Newsnight" program, "I presume that if the Iraqis ask us for help directly it would be very difficult for us to say no."

There was no immediate comment from Iraq because of the Friday day of prayer.

In Washington, a former Coalition Provisional Authority official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that American officials now think the insurgency in Iraq is being carried out by about 4,000 to 5,000 Saddam loyalists.

Other violent acts are being committed by a couple hundred supporters of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) and another group made up of hundreds of foreign fighters, said the official, who spoke on condition he not be identified. In addition to the hardcore members of these three groups, there are untold numbers of "supporters or facilitators," said the official, who is deeply familiar with the security situation in Iraq.

American officials believe the followers of Saddam, not al-Zarqawi, pose the greatest threat to the new government.

But there is little Saddam has provided in the seven months since his capture to help illuminate the threat. Saddam had revealed "almost nothing" of any intelligence value during months of interrogation, the official said.

The former dictator was transferred to Iraqi legal control Wednesday but remains under U.S. guard.

L. Paul Bremer, who ran Iraq until a few days ago, said Thursday that the nation's future as a democracy hinges on whether security forces can curb violence enough to permit elections.

"Looking forward over the next six to eight months, the key question is going to be: Can they get security enough under control that credible elections can be held in January — on schedule?" said Bremer, former administration of the now-defunct CPA in Iraq. "I believe they can. There's a lot of work to be done."

Whether it was time or not, Saddam's court appearance was momentous. Unaccompanied by a lawyer, he was presented with seven preliminary charges that included gassing thousands of Kurds in 1988, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the suppression of 1991 revolts by Kurds and Shiites, the murders of religious and political leaders and the mass displacement of Kurds in the 1980s.

He brushed off the charges, suggesting he had immunity as Iraq's president. And he refused to sign a statement listing the accusations.

"Please allow me not to sign until the lawyers are present. ... Anyhow, when you take a procedure to bring me here again, present me with all these papers with the presence of lawyers. Why would you behave in a manner that we might call hasty later on?" he said.

Afterward, 11 other defendants appeared one by one to hear the charges against them. Most appeared to be tired, broken men, shadows of their former roles as masters of Iraq.

Best-known among the 11 are former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, long Saddam's spokesman in the West; Ali Hasan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali;" and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Aziz denied personal involvement in any of the regime's crimes, saying, "I never killed anybody by any direct act."

Saddam's appearance overshadowed the rest of the day's proceedings and gave Iraqis their first look at him since a humiliating video showing the rumpled, tired ex-dictator submitting to a medical exam by his American captors.

It was not immediately clear what punishment Saddam would face, but the new Iraqi government has said it wants to reinstate the death penalty, suspended under the U.S. occupation. Saddam's trial will not take place until 2005 at least.

Also Friday, Iraqi insurgents freed two Turkish hostages whose company had reportedly promised to stop working with the U.S. military in Iraq to with their release.

The two hostages, an air conditioner repairman and his co-worker with the Kayteks company, were reported missing June 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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