BAGHDAD -- The New Year's Eve car bombing of an upscale Baghdad restaurant, which killed eight people, was a sign opponents of the U.S.-led occupation forces may be shifting to civilian targets, U.S. and Iraqi officials said yesterday. The so-called "hard targets" in Baghdad, like coalition complexes and Iraqi police stations, are increasingly well guarded, pushing insurgents toward soft targets, like Nabil Restaurant, said a U.S. military officer with the 1st Armoured Division. He spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"When terrorists can target coalition forces or Iraqi police," they will, said Lt.-Gen. Ahmed Kadhem, deputy Iraqi interior minister and Baghdad chief of police. "If they can't, they go to an easier target, aiming at civilians."
He said security was being increased around hospitals and government buildings and called on schools to put up checkpoints and keep cars off their campuses.
Assailants have previously bombed civilian targets, including the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Both organizations pulled most of their foreign staff out of Iraq after those deadly attacks.
In a city where sandbagged checkpoints, concrete barriers and armed guards protect many potential targets, the Nabil Restaurant was easy prey. Situated on a busy street in the upscale Karrada neighbourhood, it was protected by a lone armed guard and had no barriers or sandbags to shield wealthy patrons from the blast of the car bomb that detonated Wednesday night as Iraqis and Westerners celebrated.
Col. Ralph Baker, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armoured Division, said the blast was caused by a car booby-trapped with about 225 kilograms of explosives. He said reports it was a suicide bomb attack were false and they had questioned witnesses who said they saw a man running from a vehicle before the explosion.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Baker said U.S. military and Iraqi police were following up a number of leads.
Iraqi police pulled four bodies from the rubble in the immediate aftermath of the blast and American soldiers later found another four.