A massive truck bomb yesterday tore through the Canal Hotel that houses the UN offices in Baghdad killing at least 20 people, including the top UN official in Iraq—Sergio Vieira de Mello, and injuring more than 100. The explosion took place at around 4.30 p.m., as a press conference was underway in the three-storey building that has functioned as the UN headquarters in Iraq since 1991.
The attack was well organised. A concrete truck packed with an estimated 250 kilograms of C4 military explosives was detonated outside a newly-built, concrete retaining wall around the UN compound. The wall offered no protection from the huge blast that destroyed the front of the building, an adjoining hospital and a number of cars and shattered windows blocks away.
No organisation has claimed responsibility for the bombing. It has been immediately seized upon by the Bush administration to justify further indiscriminate reprisals and repression against the Iraqi people. At the same time, the attack underscores the depth of hostility, anger and despair felt by wide sections of the population in Iraq and throughout the Middle East towards Washington's criminal occupation of the country. Political responsibility for the bomb blast rests with the US and its accomplices, who have created nothing short of a nightmare for the Iraqi people.
US President Bush briefly interrupted a game of golf to make a banal statement to the media condemning the UN bombing. “Every sign of progress in Iraq adds to the desperation of these terrorists and the remnants of Saddam’s brutal regime. The civilised world will not be intimidated,” he declared. “The Iraqi people have been liberated from a dictator. Iraq is on an irreversible course toward self-government and peace.”
His comments stand reality on its head. Washington has not liberated Iraq but replaced a brutal dictatorship, which it helped create, with a neo-colonial regime headed by Paul Bremer III, a proconsul with absolute powers. The Iraqi people are no freer under Bremer than they were under Saddam Hussein. Under the pretext of hunting down “Baathist remnants,” US troops routinely search people, vehicles and houses, killing or incarcerating anyone suspected of opposition. Thousands of people are being held, and in some cases tortured, in US-run jails and detention centres in flagrant breach of their basic democratic rights.
The purpose of the US-led invasion was not to bring “self-government and peace” but to loot the economy, particularly the country’s huge oil reserves. Much of the limited and decaying physical and social infrastructure that existed under the previous regime has been destroyed, leaving masses of people without jobs, basic services and essentials such as electricity, water and adequate food.