BAGHDAD, Nov 21: In the face of the military might of the US-led coalition, their opponents on Friday resorted to the humblest of expedients to get past the tight security around key facilities here — the donkey cart.

Using animal fodder for camouflage, insurgents managed to get four multiple rocket launchers within striking distance of some of the most heavily fortified and best defended targets in the Iraqi capital.

The Palestine Hotel, the capital’s main media base, where a US contractor was wounded, is surrounded by huge concrete blocks and guarded by US tanks.

But they afforded no protection from the carefully concealed launchers.

One of the carts was parked outside a police station on Baghdad’s main commercial thoroughfare. Another was placed near a key bridge across the Tigris.

However, just two of the craftily concealed firing platforms raised the suspicion of passers-by.

In one case, the attacker aroused the concern of a shopkeeper by running off after placing his cart 200 metres (yards) from the Italian embassy.

The other was spotted by three friends whose curiosity had been aroused by the unattended cart.

Such hay wagons are a common sight in the early morning as vendors tour the city hawking their loads to the traditional carriers who distribute bottled gas and other commodities by donkey cart.

US commanders acknowledged that they had been caught off guard by the ingenuity of the militants in hitting back against the pounding they have been subjected to in and around Baghdad by US firepower over the past week.

“These were deliberate attacks, well planned and, quite frankly, well executed,” said Colonel Brad May of the US 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment.

“The use of donkey carts shows variety. The enemy is trying to get one step ahead of us with an element of surprise.”

Coalition military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt concurred. “These are spectacular attacks,” he told a Baghdad briefing.

“The enemy took a look at our operations and realised we were clamping down and that they cannot attack and defeat us in a military sense.

“What they are trying to do is break our will, try to capture the headlines.”

In each case, the hay or other animal fodder concealed a makeshift launcher attached to a timer fuse powered by a car battery.

The launcher consisted of three rows of 10 tubes each sealed in concrete. Retractable metal doors covered by waterproof plastic protected each one.

The donkey carts themselves were the genuine article, right down to the sorts of workaday mottos carters normally put on their vehicles.

“Allah, Mohammed, Ali,” said one.

“My love, my heart is with you,” read the motto on another.

The carts even had the donkeys hitched up to them.

The coalition military spokesman said the animals were in reasonable condition, despite burns an AFP correspondent saw on the hind leg of one from the rocket firings.

“One is pretty shaken up. All indication is that all donkeys will recover,” said Kimmitt.

US Colonel Pete Mansoor likened the ingenuity of the camouflage to that used in a rocket attack on the even more heavily guarded Rashid Hotel, where guests of the US-led occupation administration are put up.

That attack, which happened while US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying at the hotel, killed a US colonel.

In that instance the launcher was concealed on a trailer made to look as though it was carrying an emergency generator, a common sight in a war-shattered city where power cuts are still rife.

The camouflage allowed the attackers to get within firing range of the Green Zone, the US-led coalition’s sprawling Fort Knox-like administrative compound.—AFP


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