Eyewitness Account of the Attack on the Al-Rashid Hotel
Posted by permission:
Today things hit closer to home than previous acts of violence here in Baghdad. It was near 6:00 AM in the morning and I was half awake, I usually get up at that time. Then, boom, a thunderous thud rattled the building. I jumped out of bed and then another, hiss, thud, hiss, thud. So startled was I that I really lost track At the time it sounded like about 4 or 5 impacts. In reality it was 8 major explosive hits on the Al-Rashid hotel. The! n I heard the crackle of gun fire, wails of terror and a cacophony of activity outside my room but that was only the beginning of what proved to be a distressing day.
On the first impact I leapt out of bed a bit disoriented but woke up extremely fast, adrenalin flowing, and threw open the drapes to try and get a look at what happened. But I had people working with and for me staying in the hotel and I had to move. I jumped into my clothes, threw on my sandals, chambered a bullet in my weapon and remarkably remembered to grab my camera (a friend later said she was angry when she saw me emerge from my room with a camera but later was happy I got some pictures). Two people from across the hall from me and both were just emerging from their room unhurt. One in a cracking and half hysterical voice remembered that her sister was on a floor where it was reported there were several impacts. So I hurried down the hall on the same floor and saw a ! man emerging coved in dust and blood. There was a trail ! of blood to the stairs. On another floor I noticed a man standing in his underwear dazed and covered in a blanket of dust and blood. He was immediately helped by someone to the stairs and disappeared. Smoke billowed through the hallway. There was no mistake it was the pungent smell of explosives. Either RPG’s or rockets of some kind.
I went into a stricken room to see if everyone was ok. The wounded had been evacuated. Certainly anyone in that room was wounded considering the damage I witnessed. The large windows were blown out completely and only a gnarled window frame remained. With a tinge of guilt I snapped a couple of pictures and raced out of the room.
In the stairwell I saw pools of blood on the landing. Most of the traffic was flowing down the stairs as I headed up to the next floor where several of friends stay. Damage there appeared to be even worse at a g! lance. I saw two people in the hallway; relieved that they were alright I asked them if they had seen any of the others. They had not. I told them to get out of the place and went to the end hall to check another room when my cell phone came to life. It was another guy who was housed on the same floor. He cried for me to get out of the building. I was more interested in finding out if he and his roommate were okay. His roommate had been complaining that his employer was sending him to work out in the desert. He lamented that he had to leave the Hotel and stay with the snakes. When I saw that he was ok but rattled later on in the lobby I joked with him that the desert didn’t look so bad now. Both were ok and he accounted for the others on the floor, all of whom had made it to the lobby.
I head then to the next floor to check on the ! last of my friends. I beat on their door but got no reply. We tried then to break the door down. Just then however, one of them called and said she was in the lobby. That was everybody I knew in the danger zone. It was time to head to the lobby myself but I couldn’t resist going to the end of the hall where one of the rooms had been pulverized. Water was streaming from the pipes and the door had been blown from its hinges. Most of the entry area was shredded. It looked like the rocket had traveled completely through the room and out the door to the next room. That room too had been evacuated. The reports were that the woman in that room had her arm severed.
That was it; I couldn’t go any further and decided to get out. I followed the bloody footprints down the stairs to the lobby. It was bedlam. The couches and chairs were covered with the wounded while medics attended to them. I walked out the back of the building to see if I could survey the damage.&nb! sp; The ground was covered with glass shards, concrete, and wood. Drapes were hanging from the window ledges and impact holes could clearly be seen. On one of the higher floors the façade was completely blown away. Unfortunately, a PFC told me I needed to leave the area.
I returned to the lobby and made contact with everyone once again. One guy had been forced from his room in his underpants and tank-top undershirt. It is a good thing he isn’t a briefs man! He was stuck in his undies for about 6 hours before they would let him back in to just get his clothes. Later, after most folks had dispersed to the palace to work until folks could return to get their belongings, the underwear crowd huddled together at the front gate waiting, hoping to get back in to clothe their nakedness. It is interesting the things you think about even under the most traumatic circumstances. One of those odd thoughts came to mind as I was rushin! g to and fro in the hallway. A woman I have become acqua! inted wi th once talked about the need to get pajamas so that she would be prepared in the event of an emergency. Apparently she generally sleeps nude. She also secured a 60 meter length of rope just in case she found the regular exits blocked. As I scurried around I wondered briefly if she had her pajamas on. Later in the lobby I spotted her safe and sound and clothed. We actually had a laugh about my strange mind. At least we could find something to laugh about.
But humorous moments were a rare blessing under the circumstances. One guy I had come to know was asked to identify the only fatality of the attack. He was a Colonel who I was also acquainted with. He had no chance of surviving the direct hit to his room. But he was a close friend of many here. There is something surreal when you find out someone you see everyday is dead. I wept as did many for the man who e! njoyed his time here and had in fact decided to extend his tour rather than return to a dreary life behind a desk. The preceding evening he had asked a friend to go with him to a party with FOX News personnel. He turned him down. Now he was racked with guilt for not going. Had they gone they may have stayed someplace other than the Rashid and he would be alive. But how could he have known? But second guessing after tragedies is a natural response to the helplessness and incomprehensibility of disaster. It is a by-product of the need to feel one has control. But over the uncontrollable such emotions just torture and rend the heart and soul. I wept for the friend who was racked with guilt as much as I wept for the victim of the attack in that moment. Finally, late that evening after everyone was settled I was greeted by a care package from a friend in the States; the only real good news of the day. So I took th! e goodies and shared them with a bunch of Brits trying to some! how forg et the horrible day. Mind you I just drank some milk but drunken Brits make for fine company. Finally I was able to collapse amidst the snoring masses here at the palace after everything was finally over.
The facts of the attack as I understand them are this. A trailer was pull up just outside the green-zone loaded with a rocket battery of 40 62mm rockets. Twenty-nine rockets fired, 27 impacted the hotel at various points ranging from the 3rd to the 11th floors. Approximately 15 people were wounded and one killed. The hotel itself sustained considerable damage but is intact structurally and it looks like it will reopen with extra security in a few days. It is an inviting target all full of Western occupation authorities and help.
Paul Wolfowitz was there at the time. I guess it was fitting it should happen while he was there because this was his imperial adventure anyway. Naturally, all we heard from him were slogans and rhetoric about enemies of freedom and standing fast. Yet we constantly hear cowardly politicians and chest thumping “patriots” talking about spending too much money and ignorantly arguing about how the inept leaderless Iraqis should be fending for themselves. It is infuriating to hear them arm-chair quarterback while others, many of who disagreed with the war, have come to help in some way. Meanwhile, the greatest proponents of the war laud the bravery of the soldiers and civilians without lifting a finger to help. The sad fact is that many of these champions of liberty have never lifted a finger to defend said liberty with arms or real effort. Most h! ave contempt for the Arab world and yet claim they desire its liberation from tyranny. Yet all they have brought is chaos. Now they cry about how much it will cost. It is much like two horny teenagers bemoaning the child they created in a moment of passion then slinking off for the coward’s abortion denying the responsibility for the creation of a child. They need more troops here or the peace will be lost in a year or two, more westerners will die, but worst of all the Iraqis will be left to suffer from the tyranny of anarchy.
Later that night more rockets were fired and now there are signs of second guessing among those working here. I can feel the rumblings of discontent on the political horizon in the USA conspiring against this adventure. And with every bomb it quakes more violently (six bombs tod! ay detonated out of eight total – the Police foiled two of the! m), but only to the ruin of these “liberated” people. Meanwhile the cowards drink fine wine in black ties and toast their own power and brilliance while the courageous continue on trying to actually do something of value despite the hot perennial rhetorical wind blowing from Washington while the Red Cross and Ministry of Industry burn.“
[The last bit was obviously added 10/27/03]