General Says Attack Was Likely a Suicide Bomber
By MATT KELLEY, AP
WASHINGTON (Dec. 22) -- A suicide bomber was the likely cause of the deadliest single attack on American troops in Iraq - an explosion at a U.S. base that killed 22 people, the Pentagon's top general said Wednesday.
''At this point, it looks like it was an improvised explosive device worn by an attacker,'' Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
The explosion Tuesday ripped through a dining hall tent while hundreds of troops were eating lunch at Forward Operating Base Marez near the northern city of Mosul.
Military officials initially said a 122 mm rocket was the likely cause. Myers would not comment on specific evidence, but said, ''If it was a rocket, you'd find remnants of the rocket. If it were an improvised explosive device you would find remnants of the improvised explosive device.''
President Bush, at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland for the Christmas holiday, was told of the new developments as part of his usual daily national security briefings.
In Iraq, military officials said Wednesday that shrapnel from the explosion included small metal pellets such as ball bearings, which are often used in suicide bombings but are not usually part of the shrapnel given off by rockets or mortars.
Myers did not say whether authorities believe the bomber worked at the base or got into the mess hall some other way. He said military officials in Baghdad would release more details later.
A contingent of FBI bomb technicians has been deployed to help the military investigate the bombing, said an FBI official on condition of anonymity because of bureau policy. The Baghdad-based FBI team will help identify the type of explosive and components used, which could provide forensic links to previous Iraq bombings.
Of the 22 people killed, 13 were U.S. military, five U.S. civilian contractors, three Iraqi security force members and one other non-U.S. individual.
In addition, Myers said 69 people were injured, including 44 U.S. military, seven U.S. contractors, five Defense Department civilians, two Iraqi civilians, 10 contractors of other nationalities and one of unknown nationality and occupation.
Myers would not say whether officials believe the unidentified corpse was the bomber, or whether the unidentified injured person was involved in the attack.
Of the 69 wounded, 25 will return to duty, he said.
Myers and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the investigation into the explosion was continuing. Both said the military was doing its best to protect troops.
''I think families need to be assured that we will give them the best that we can humanly produce for them to protect their loved ones,'' Myers said.
Despite the attack and other violence elsewhere in Iraq, Rumsfeld and Myers said the U.S.-led forces were winning the battle against the insurgents, and in the process protecting America from another terrorist attack. Rumsfeld said terrorists would have ''a deep pool from which to draw recruits and attack'' across the globe if the United States fails in Iraq.
''Freedom is at stake in Iraq and is achievable,'' Rumsfeld said. ''The only mistake would be to go back to darkness in Iraq.''
While offering condolences to relatives of those killed, Rumsfeld lashed out at critics who accuse the Pentagon of failing to provide enough protective equipment and facilities for U.S. forces.
Rumsfeld said he stays awake at night worrying about the troops.
''I am truly saddened by the thought that anyone could have the impression that I, or others here, are doing anything other than working urgently to see that the lives of the fighting men and women are protected and are cared for in every way humanly possible,'' he said.
President Bush said Tuesday that he hopes families of those killed would find solace in the service their loved ones provided. He said the violence, part of a continuing wave of unrest in Iraq, should not affect the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
''I'm confident democracy will prevail in Iraq,'' he said.
AP-NY-12-22-04 17:33 EST