The Baghdad Hotel Attack: The Real Targets

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Monday's deadly attack on Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, a large, well-coordinated assault claimed by al-Qaeda involving truck bombs which killed at least six people, was thought to target the many foreign journalists who stay there. But sources inside the Iraqi insurgency tell TIME that the real target was a security firm based in the hotel.

The raid was a joint operation between al-Qaeda in Iraq, the organization headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Jaysh al-Muhammad, one of the largest Ba'athist groups. Al-Qaeda claims Iraqis from a suicide group called the Lions of Bara'a bin Malik drove the actual vehicle bombs. In a statement, al-Qaeda claimed the attack went after "the intelligence agencies, American, Australian and British security companies and the thieves of the treasures of Iraq," referring to contractors. The insurgents believe the targeted security firm is actually a Western or Israeli government intelligence agency.

The plan was as audacious and complex as it was chilling. Highly coordinated, at approximately 5:30 p.m., the first suicide car bomb approached the outer perimeter of the compound next to Firdos Square, where American forces famously toppled the huge statue of Saddam Hussein on April 9, 2003. The vehicle then exploded, breaching the concrete barrier that led into the hotel compound. Just minutes later, a second vehicular bomb, this time in an SUV, exploded next to the 14th Ramadan mosque across the square, just 100 yards from the Agriculture Ministry. Police and other security agents rushed across the roundabout amid a fusillade from insurgents and security forces. That was the opening for the third bomb, a cement truck, which moved through the breach left by the first explosion and approached the hotel.

The truck made it about 40 feet into the compound before entangling its axles in concertina wire. The driver went back and forth a few times while an American soldier opened fire on the truck. Moments later, the bomb exploded in a colossal mushroom cloud, sending shrapnel, fiery debris, dust and smoke into the air. The blast was rattled windows and shelves up to 1.5 miles away. Had the truck moved 20 to 30 feet closer, it's likely it would have taken down much of the Palestine Hotel with horrific casualties.

Insurgent sources told TIME the plan after that was to storm into the hotel and kill the surviving security members, but that part of the plan never came about because the third truck never got close enough to the hotel to do real damage and Iraqi security forces and American troops drove off the insurgent assault teams.