The attack heralds a new dimension to the war in Iraq. The resistance has until now been furtive hit-and-run raids on American convoys, improvised explosive devices that strike military vehicles, snipers and gunmen picking off soldiers one by one. As of today car bombs are in the anti-American forces arsenal. Whether this signals a shift in people or simply a change in tactics is unclear; U.S. commanders say they have reports of foreign terrorists entering the country, but this assault may turn out to be homegrown. Still, the deployment of car bombs, or that most sanguine of weapons the suicide bomber, as was used by the terrorists of Ansar al Islam in northern Iraq earlier this year, could be the next step in the campaign against U.S. forces. "I think that what this shows is we've got some terrorists operating here," says Coalition commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. "It shows that we're still in a conflict zone."
Outside the Embassy
Within minutes of the blast the scene at the embassy was one of furtive screaming, blazing vehicles, dismembered victims and rescuers blindly running in belching smoke, scouring for survivors. The wounded, draped in blood, were stumbling onto the footpath or being carried from the building towards the wailing of approaching ambulance sirens. Nearby, naked torsos littered the pavement and embassy doorways. Little crimson lakes of blood pooled on the concrete. People dashing in and out of the building stepped high over the dead, some without looking down, their gaze fixed ahead. The wounded went to the ambulances first. As each ambulance filled it raced off, only to be replaced by another. When the time came the dead were gingerly lifted, some scooped up in messy bundles. All were quickly wrapped in whatever was at hand; a white scarf, a vibrant yellow blanket, anything. Four men took the edges of the wrappings and hauled them away. As they did emphatic chants went up, "There is only one God," over and over. Eventually gurneys were freed up from the injured and the dead were wheeled through the gathering throng.
Anger Toward America
It was not long before the shock passed, and a mob stormed the embassy, crashing through the twisted bars of a metal gate. Men reappeared with framed photographs of the deceased Jordanian King Hussein Abdullah. The crowd bellowed as the pictures were held aloft and cheered as they were smashed upon the embassy walls. Glass shattered and the pictures were stomped by many sandals. Next came Jordanian tourist posters and images of King Abdullah's son, King Abdullah bin Hussein, Jordan's reigning monarch. They too were smashed. A Jordanian staffer in the bowels of the embassy fired shots as the second wave of looters crashed in. Then the rage turned, and the crowd began yelling Anti-American slogans.
No U.S. forces had yet arrived to secure the embassy. The only Iraqi police were among the dead. The crowd's anger turned on Time's reporter, the only foreigner then on the scene. "Fuck you," a man yelled as he lunged, throwing a punch. "Fuck King Hussein and fuck America." The crowd closed in, snatching, punching and clawing. "Where are the Americans?" a man yelled. "If we saw one injured American here we'd see the area full of helicopters."
When the US troops finally arrived, more than 30 minutes after the bombing, they came in force: humvees and battle tanks. The crowd jeered. Soldiers pressing inside the embassy were heckled. The tanks rumbled forward, cutting a path through the throng. Soldiers grabbed a crowbar to help the Iraqis prying the scorched metal of one of the cars to retrieve more bodies. The crowd demanded they step back. "Leave them," a man in a bloodied shirt ordered in Arabic, "they are Iraqis." The crowd backed up his command, chanting "God is great." It took time for the soldiers to drive the mess of people back; they had to shout and order, and sometimes shove with their rifles.
No one knows who was responsible for the attack. Some of the bystanders surmised it may be payback for Jordan's offer of asylum for Saddam's daughters. Others though it was just deserts for their neighbor's alliance with the U.S. A bearded old man said he didn't care why, though he firmly believed it was pro-Saddam guerrillas. "Look at what they've done, why did they do it here?" he lamented. "The mujahedeen could have done it somewhere else. The only dead are Iraqis."
One thing is certain. The war has changed.