The Canal Hotel Bombing - At Least 22 Killed in Baghdad
The Canal Hotel Bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, in the afternoon of August 19, 2003, killed at least 22 people, including the United Nations' Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and wounded over 100.
The blast targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq created just 5 days earlier (the United Nations had used the hotel as its headquarters in Iraq since 1991.) The attack was followed by a second bombing a month later which resulted in the withdrawal of the 600 UN staff members in Iraq. These events were to have a profound and lasting impact on the UN's security practices globally.
The explosion occurred while Martin Barber, director of the UN's Mine Action Service (UNMAS) was holding a press conference. The explosion damaged a spinal cord treatment center at the hospital next door and a U.S. Army Civil-Military Operations Centre located at the rear of the Canal Hotel, and the resulting shockwave was felt over a mile away.
The blast was caused by a suicide bomber driving a truck bomb. The vehicle has been identified as a large 2002 flatbed Kamaz (manufactured in Eastern Europe; part of the former Iraqi establishment's fleet). Investigators in Iraq suspected the bomb was made from old munitions, including a single 500-pound bomb, possibly from Iraq's pre-war arsenal. Investigators said that such items would not require any "great degree of sophistication" to assemble.
There is speculation that Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, may have been specifically targeted in the blast due to the proximity of the explosion to his office. The UN building may have been chosen due to its limited security. Another motive to the bombing could be the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq. The OCHA Humanitarian Information Centre (HIC) for Iraq (UNOHCI) was located directly beneath Vieira de Mello’s office and suffered a direct hit. Of the eight staff and one visitor in the office at the time, seven were killed instantly, but Sergio Vieira de Mello and Gil Loescher were critically wounded and trapped in debris under the collapsed portion of the building. An American soldier - First Sergeant William von Zehle - crawled down through the collapsed building and worked to extricate the two men. He was joined later by another American soldier - Staff Sergeant Andre Valentine - and the two men spent the next three hours trying to extricate the two survivors without benefit of any rescue equipment. Loescher was rescued after having his crushed legs amputated by the soldiers, but Vieira de Mello died shortly before he would have been able to have been removed.