BAGHDAD—At least 31 people were killed Thursday as bombers penetrated Baghdad’s fortresslike Green Zone and US aircraft pounded the insurgency den of Fallujah as talks to avert war in that city appeared to unravel.
The bloodshed came on the eve of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan after Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told Fallujah to surrender Iraq’s most-wanted man, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, whose band of Jihadists claimed Thursday’s assault on a bustling restaurant and bazaar in the heartland of the Iraqi government.
The US State Department late Thursday downgraded its count of those killed in the Green Zone from 10 to 5, including three Americans, when a suicide bomber and his colleague unleashed carnage in back-to-back blasts just before 1 p.m. (1000 GMT).
A State Department briefing originally said 10 were killed in the attacks, including five Americans.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher late Thursday said a total of five were killed, including three private American security contractors, and a fourth was missing and presumed dead.
“The total number of confirmed deaths in both attacks is five—four in Vendor’s Alley and one at the Green Zone Cafe,” he said. “Of these five confirmed deaths, three were American citizens, contractors killed at Vendor’s Alley.
“In addition to these five confirmed deaths, another American citizen contractor who was at Vendor’s Alley at the time of the explosion is missing and presumed dead,” said the spokesman.
He said the dead Americans were security staff with a private company on contract to protect the US Embassy. He added that embassy staff had been ordered to remain in the heavily fortified facility until further notice.
There was no easy answer as to how the men, one of them a suicide bomber, and the other who probably planted a bomb, infiltrated the Green Zone, an embassy official said.
Some witnesses said they spotted the culprits in the countdown to the carnage.
A waiter, Abdul Razaq Moahmmed, said two men, aged around 25, sat and drank tea for almost half an hour at the popular Green Zone Cafe. They were carrying black bags and said they were Jordanians.
After a lengthy conversation, one man got up and walked away. Five minutes later an explosion shook the nearby bazaar, Mohammed said.
Within minutes, a powerful blast shook the restaurant.
Meanwhile, the United Nations intends to deploy more election experts to Iraq later this month if the security situation permits, Britain’s UN ambassador said.
In August, Secretary-General Kofi Annan allowed a small UN contingent to return to Baghdad and imposed a ceiling of 35 international staffers, but he has been under pressure to increase the number to help Iraq prepare for elections in January.
“As I understand it, the intention of the UN is to be in a position, if the security situation permits, that it will deploy more election staff into Iraq by October 27,” Emyr Jones Parry, the British ambassador and current Security Council president, said Thursday.