Rockets Slam Into Iraq's Oil Ministry, Two Hotels

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Rockets apparently fired from donkey carts slammed into Iraq's Oil Ministry and two hotels used by U.S. workers and foreign journalists in downtown Baghdad on Friday morning, causing limited damage. At least one man was injured.

In two nearly simultaneous attacks just after 7 A.M., attackers led donkey carts carrying rocket launchers up to a street near the hotels and another outside the Oil Ministry, said Col. Peter Mansoor of the U.S. 1st Armored Division.

He said eight rockets hit the Oil Ministry, although only two of them detonated. He also said one rocket hit the Palestine Hotel and another hit the next-door Sheraton.

But at least three rocket impacts could be seen at the Palestine Hotel, on the eighth, 15th and 16th floors of the 18-story structure. One man was carried out on a stretcher, bleeding from his head. Medics had attached an intravenous tube.

On Saadoun Street, which runs alongside the Palestine Hotel, police and soldiers discovered a rocket-launcher atop a donkey cart with a capacity to fire 30 rockets. Iraqi police 1st Lt. Amar Arshad said at least three rockets were fired, and five more sat unfired in the rocket-launcher.

Mansoor said another rocket-launcher, also on a donkey cart, was found near the Oil Ministry.

Witnesses reported hearing five explosions at about 7:30 A.M., and thick black smoke poured from the heavily guarded compound. Fire trucks moved about the ministry and U.S. soldiers kept journalists away.

At the Palestine Hotel, one of the rockets left a hole in the wall of the 16th floor, and a 15th-floor room appeared to have been hit as well. Another impact was on the eighth floor.

"My neighbor's room was hit pretty bad," said Steven Akana, 49, a contractor with a U.S. company who is staying on the 15th floor.

Several windows were shattered in the 18-floor building.

There were also broken windows on the top floors of the Sheraton across the street. An elevator appeared to have been damaged.

The Sheraton once belonged to the U.S. chain, but is operated by Iraqis, like the Palestine, which was formerly part of the Meridian hotel chain.

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 Hotel, which housed most foreign journalists in Iraq during the war, 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 said the shooting was justified.

Last month, insurgents fired a volley of rockets at the al-Rasheed Hotel, just across the river in the so-called Green Zone which houses the U.S. occupation authority. One U.S. soldier was killed and a number of people were wounded in that strike.

Ziyad, a 25-year-old Iraqi man who was staying with his bride Rownaq at the Palestine for their wedding night - an Iraqi tradition - was two doors down from the 15th-floor impact.

"We were sleeping when we heard the sound of a rocket," he said. "This is our wedding present."