Suicide bombers struck the Red Cross headquarters and three police stations across Baghdad on Monday, killing about 40 people and injuring more than 200 in a coordinated terror spree that stunned the Iraqi capital on the first day of the Islamic holy month of fasting, Ramadan.
The string of car bombings, all within about 45 minutes, was the bloodiest episode yet in the city of 5 million by insurgents targeting the American-led occupation and those perceived as working with it.
It also appeared to mark a dramatic escalation in tactics, suggesting a level of organization U.S. officials had doubted the resistance possessed. In past weeks, bombers have carried out heavy suicide bombings but in single strikes.
President Bush said progress in Iraq is making insurgents more "desperate" and fueling attacks.
Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House that those who are continuing to engage in violence "can't stand the thought of a free society. They hate freedom. They love terror. They love to try to create fear and chaos."
One American soldier was killed in one of the police station attacks and six U.S. troops were wounded, the military said. Ibrahim put the Iraqi death toll at 34, including 26 civilians and eight police but not the attackers.
The bombings came hours after clashes around Baghdad killed three U.S. soldiers overnight, and a day after insurgents hit a hotel full of U.S. occupation officials with a barrage of rockets, killing a U.S. colonel and wounding 18 other people. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel, but was unhurt.
Since Mr. Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, 113 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire.
At the Pentagon, officials described the two days of violence as a significant spike in attacks that showed some level of coordination — though how much was still unclear.
It also remained unclear who was responsible for the attacks. Defense officials said they believe loyalists of fallen Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were responsible for the wave of bombings.
In Washington, Pentagon officials said they believed loyalists of Iraq's ousted President Saddam Hussein were responsible for the bombings.
But here in Baghdad, top Iraqi and U.S. officers blamed "foreign fighters," not Saddam diehards, for the day's mayhem. "That's a reasonable supposition," said Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling.
Hertling, an assistant commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, said he believed the attacks may have been timed with the start of Ramadan to heighten tensions during the fasting month, when Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours.
At the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in central Baghdad, witnesses said a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed vehicle, apparently an ambulance, right up to security barriers outside the building at about 8:30 a.m. The vehicle detonated, blowing down the Red Cross's front wall, devastating the interior and blowing shrapnel and debris over a wide area.
A Red Cross staff member said someone began firing off an automatic weapon immediately after the explosion — "100 bullets or more." He said he believed it was a gunman somehow associated with the bomber "who wanted to scare people more."
Two buildings away, the explosion devastated the interior of the Al-Nawal private polyclinic operated by Dr. Jamal F. Massa, 53, who had been planning to open it as a full-fledged hospital next month.
"We feel helpless when see this," a distraught Iraqi doctor said at the devastated Red Cross offices. The Red Cross said 12 Iraqis were killed at its office, including two employees.
Then, in quick succession, explosions went off at the al-Baya'a, al-Shaab and al-Khadra police stations. Ambulances, sirens wailing, crisscrossed the city all morning. The explosions outside police stations left streetscapes of broken, bloody bodies and twisted, burning automobiles.
Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim, the deputy interior minister, said a fifth, aborted car bombing was attempted by a man captured with a Syrian passport.
"Some countries, unfortunately, are trying to send people to conduct attacks," he said, without naming those nations.
That fifth bomber was kept by officers from detonating his Land Cruiser at a station in the "New Baghdad" district. "He was shouting, 'Death to the Iraqi police! You're collaborators!'" said police Sgt. Ahmed Abdel Sattar.
The Red Cross said it will decide within days whether to reduce its presence in the country following the suicide car bombing that killed two Iraqi Red Cross employees and as many as 10 other people outside the compound.
Medecins Sans Frontieres said it would reduce its seven-member expatriate team. The Greek section of another aid group, Doctors of the World said it would probably remove at least two of its three staff. The German government said it was considering whether to withdraw a four-member team of water-supply experts.
The Red Cross and other international aid organizations had reduced their Baghdad staffs after the car bombing of U.N. headquarters Aug. 19, in which 23 people died.