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Bomb hits Baghdad hotel popular with foreign journalists

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The boom of a car bomb is unmistakable and chilling. Almost worse are the expressions on the faces of Iraqis in the immediate aftermath. The set jaw and the cold stare of people wondering where the enemy has come from.

Near the Hamra hotel on Monday, Iraqis and Westerners hugged friends and near-strangers uninjured in the bombings. The icy stares were from residents of nearby houses living through the second major bombing of a hotel popular with foreign journalists. Many of those journalists moved here as a safer alternative to the Palestine, the hotel of choice at the beginning of the war. That hotel was hit by a U.S. tank round in 2003 and later rocketed. On Monday, the second of three car bombs exploded near the Palestine. There are no safe places.

A U.S. Army officer came by looking for Americans who needed help — they would have arrived sooner but Iraqi security had closed the roads and they were caught in the same traffic jams as Iraqis were.

Baghdad last summer seemed like a much safer place than it’s been in the last few years. Families began to go out at night — new restaurants and shops opened up. On Monday, one of those restaurants in a small hotel next to the Hamra was a tangle of broken furniture and shattered glass. In the same compound, at another small hotel which the owner was in the midst of lovingly renovating, the fresh red paint framed empty windows — the imploded glass in fragments. I picked the glass off the furniture in my room and thought about how lucky I and my staff had been.

It had seemed safer until Aug. 19 — the anniversary of the bombing of U.N. headquarters here six years before. Last August, that anniversary was marked by attacks on the Foreign and Finance ministries. Those suicide truck bombs were followed by coordinated attacks on government installations in August and in December, killing hundreds of people. With the ministries increasingly fortified, the hotels were likely an easier target, one military official suggested. But by no means the last of the targets in a country where violence has receded but is never far away.

An Iraqi police officer examines wreckage after a suicide car bomb near Baghdad's Hamra hotel. (Jane Arraf/GlobalPost)