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Iraqi Insurgents Increasingly Targeting Civilians, warns US General - 2004-03-17

A powerful explosion has ripped through a hotel in the heart of Baghdad, killing and injuring an unknown number of people. The blast came as a senior U.S. military official was warning that insurgents in Iraq are turning more and more to civilian targets.

Shortly before the Baghdad blast, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, at a briefing for reporters in the Iraqi capital, said insurgents opposed to the coalition presence were increasingly going after so-called "soft" or less guarded, non-military targets.

He was referring to a series of recent incidents in which civilian aid workers and Iraqis working for the coalition have been assassinated.

"We see the enemy has sort of worked from the high end against the hard coalition targets, and seems to be drifting over the past few months going against softer and softer targets," General Kimmitt said.

Echoing recent comments by other senior defense officials, General Kimmitt called the latest insurgent tactics a sign of desperation.

"It deeply saddens us, but it certainly does demonstrate, quite frankly, how low they will go to try to achieve their purposes," he said.

The bombing came at a time when U.S. military officials say they are seeing good progress in bringing stability to Iraq. Just before the incident the Chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, was speaking to foreign reporters in Washington. Responding to questions, General Myers gave an assessment of the situation in Iraq, one year after U.S. led coalition forces invaded to topple Saddam Hussein.

"We are, in my view, making very good progress in Iraq, despite the challenges that remain," he said. "The Iraqi people are with us in this."

There was no immediate word on the nationality of casualties from Wednesday's hotel explosion in Baghdad, nor a final toll of those killed or injured.

But U.S. forces were at the scene to assist in the overall recovery effort and to restore order at the site.