BAGHDAD, Iraq -- At least 20 mortar rounds and Katyusha rockets struck the fortified Green Zone yesterday afternoon, killing an American service member and two other people in an attack on the heart of U.S. and Iraqi government facilities in the capital.
An Iraqi and a third person of unknown nationality also were killed in the attack, according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy. About 18 people were injured, including two U.S. military personnel and three American contract employees, the statement said.
Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, said 20 mortar shells and rockets had struck; another source in the ministry put the number of blasts at more than 30. Khalaf said that between 15 and 20 people were injured.
The Green Zone, also known as the International Zone or IZ, is home to the U.S. Embassy, Iraqi Parliament and other American and Iraqi government offices. It covers about four square miles in central Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River.
Iraqi police said yesterday's attack, the most intense in recent months, targeted the embassy, Ibn Sina Hospital and the homes of Iraqi officials. Moments earlier, a duck-and-cover order had contractors, embassy staff and soldiers crouching in concrete bunkers, part of the new Green Zone security routines that also include lengthier vehicle searches.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman said he could not confirm whether the embassy was a target and said the frequent attacks on the Green Zone are not a barometer of the security situation in the capital.
"There's fire into the Green Zone virtually every day, so I can't draw any conclusions about the security situation based on that," he said.
United Nations staff have temporarily relocated to a different compound within the Green Zone and are calling for construction of a stronger building capable of withstanding the stepped-up assaults. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon experienced an attack firsthand during a televised visit to the Green Zone in March and appeared shaken by the explosion.
U.N. and U.S. military leaders acknowledged last month that militants are increasingly targeting the area. There were about 39 attacks in May compared with 17 in March, according to a U.N. report. In addition to mortar and rocket attacks, the Green Zone was shaken April 12 by a suicide bombing in the Iraqi parliament building that killed two Sunni Arab legislators and six others.
Yesterday's attack came the same day gunmen kidnapped Iraqi police Col. Mahmoud Muhyi Hussein, who directs security inside the Green Zone, as he was driving in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriya. There was still no word on his fate.
Also yesterday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet announced plans to spend $10 million on recovery efforts in the northern town of Amerli, where a large suicide bomb killed 150 people Sunday and wounded at least 250.
The money will go to victims' families, to compensate business owners and help rebuild the area, according to a Cabinet statement.
Al-Maliki's Cabinet also ordered the ministries of defense and interior to secure the highway that runs north from Baghdad through Amerli to Kirkuk and to pursue militants who have fled into the northern province surrounding Amerli. The Cabinet plans to form an emergency administrative unit to respond to future large-scale attacks, the statement said.
At least 17 people died in explosions and shootings across Iraq yesterday.
In the northern city of Samarra, five Iraqi soldiers were killed and three were injured after about 60 gunmen in more than 20 cars attacked a checkpoint at 8 a.m.
Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.