BAGHDAD -- Insurgents unleashed a pair of powerful car bombs yesterday near the symbol of US authority in Iraq -- the Green Zone, where the US Embassy and key government offices are located -- and hotels occupied by hundreds of foreigners. Three other explosions brought the day's bombing toll to at least 24 dead and more than 100 wounded.
More than three dozen car bombings since the beginning of September illustrate the militants' seeming ability to strike at will despite recent pledges by the United States and Iraq to intensify the suppression of insurgents, and the morale-boosting recapture of Samarra over the weekend.
Late yesterday, US warplanes attacked the sprawling Baghdad slum of Sadr City, and skirmishes were continuing between American troops and rebels in the area, a spokesman for the insurgents said. The US military had no information on the reported fighting, but American forces have staged almost daily attacks there in an effort to root out militiamen loyal to radical Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The day's violence also included assassinations of three Iraqis, and US attacks against targets in insurgent-held Fallujah. In the latest hostage developments, kidnappers freed two Indonesian women, but a separate militant group claimed to have killed a Turkish man and a longtime Iraqi resident of Italy.
No coalition forces were wounded in either of yesterday's blasts in Baghdad, said Major Phil Smith, a spokesman for the First Cavalry Division. But the US command reported two of its soldiers were killed at a Baghdad traffic checkpoint Sunday.
In the first car bombing yesterday, insurgents detonated a four-wheel drive vehicle packed with explosives at the western entrance of the heavily fortified Green Zone about 8:45 a.m., said Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Adnan Abdul-Rahman.
"I was thrown 10 yards away and hit the wall," said Wissam Mohammed, 30, who was visiting a nearby recruiting center for Iraqi security forces.
His right hand broken, his head wrapped in bandages and his clothes stained with blood, Mohammed lay in a bed at Yarmouk Hospital.
The hospital took in 15 bodies and 81 wounded from the explosion, said Sabah Aboud, the facility's chief registration official.
An hour later, across the Tigris River, a pickup truck packed with dates and explosives plowed into a three-vehicle convoy as it left a parking lot shared by several high-rise hotels housing hundreds of foreign contractors and journalists.
As people rushed to help, gunmen began shooting from the rooftops and police returned fire, said Tahsin al-Kaabi of the Facility Protection Service, a US-trained civilian guard force. At least six people were killed and 15 wounded, said Tahsin al-Freiji, another guard force member.
One of the four-wheel drive vehicles was destroyed and the pickup truck carrying the explosives was ripped in half, with one part left dangling from a shop sign on the opposite side of the street.
At least five other cars were charred, including one of the targeted vehicles, which had a burned body in the front passenger seat. A head and other body parts were strewn in the road amid shards of glass.
"I was on my way to work. We heard a big boom, and I briefly passed out," said Razaq Hadi, 36, who was in a minibus that was damaged by the blast. "I saw seven of the passengers who were seriously wounded being taken out through the broken windows."
The driver was killed. "I saw his body torn apart," said Hadi, who was covered in the man's blood.
Both the Green Zone and the area around the hotels have been targets of previous attacks that have killed dozens of people.
Last month saw at least 39 car bomb attacks in Iraq -- the highest number in any month since the US-led invasion in March 2003. On Sept. 30, insurgents set off a series of vehicle explosives that killed at least 35 children and seven adults at a government ceremony in Baghdad.
Two more car bombs exploded yesterday in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
One of the blasts killed a civilian bystander and two people believed to be transporting explosives, said Captain Angela Bowman, a military spokeswoman. Hospital officials said they treated 11 wounded. The second bomb targeted a US Army convoy, wounding one American soldier, Bowman said.
In Baqouba, a city 35 miles northeast of the capital, a police commander was assassinated in a drive-by shooting, police said. Insurgents also fired mortar rounds at a municipal building, killing one person and wounding seven.
There were also assassinations in Baghdad, where gunmen killed a senior official of Iraq's Sciences and Technology Ministry and a female employee near the southeastern Zayona suburb, Abdul-Rahman said.
Yesterday's violence followed promises by US and Iraqi officials to crack down on insurgents ahead of elections slated for January and to wrest key parts of the country from their control.
In Fallujah, American warplanes unleashed strikes against suspected terrorist hideouts and weapons caches early yesterday. At least 11 people, including three women and four children, died in the attacks and 12 others were wounded, hospital officials said.
The military, which regularly accuses hospitals of inflating casualty figures, said the strikes targeted followers of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
It was the latest in a series of strikes that began weeks ago in the city 40 miles west of Baghdad aimed at groups with links to terrorists, particularly Zarqawi's network. Followers of the Jordanian militant have claimed responsibility for a string of deadly bombings, kidnappings, and other attacks across the country.
In Samarra, 60 miles northwest of Baghdad, US troops patrolled in tanks, armored personnel carriers, and Humvees as sporadic gunfire broke the relative calm. US soldiers, accompanied by Iraqi translators carrying lists, entered houses asking about specific people.
Iraqi National Guard forces have captured 40 foreign fighters, including Egyptians, Sudanese, and a Tunisian, since entering Samarra early Friday, Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan told Arab TV network Al-Arabiya.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pointed to the retaking of Samarra as evidence of progress in stabilizing the country before elections in January, and said he does not expect a civil war in Iraq. "I don't think it's going to happen," Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations when asked about the threat of civil war. "But what has to be done in that country is what basically was done in Samarra over the last 48 hours."
In other developments:
US Marines, patrolling the militant stronghold of Ramadi, killed two insurgents and wounded a third while two civilians were also wounded during the gun battle Sunday, a military spokesman said. Dr. Dia'a al-Haity at the Ramadi General Hospital said five men were killed and five wounded, including one woman, in the incident.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland said he sees the end of 2005 as a possible date for ending the country's mission in Iraq, the first time the key US ally has indicated when it might pull its soldiers out of the country.
Iraq plans to build or reconstruct more than 300 border forts and double the size of its frontier forces to stem the flow of insurgents, weapons, and money into the country, the US military said.
The headless body of a police officer, still in his uniform, was discovered in the area of Kirkuk, north of Baghdad.