In times like these, when democracy is threatened, thank goodness we have Scott McClellan at the White House to tell us what it all means....

By Jack Kus

** White House press secretary Scott McClellan: "Democracy is taking root" **

March 17, 2004

The Mount Lebanon Hotel, once well known to foreigners on business in Baghdad, will not be accepting American Express cards any more.

The unprotected hotel was destroyed early Wednesday evening (9:10 a.m. PST) by a bomb estimated to have weighed 1000 pounds[1].

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, promptly issued a staunch statement.

"This remains a time of testing in Iraq. The stakes are high, the terrorists know the stakes are high. But they will not prevail. We will meet this test with strength and with resolve. Democracy is taking root in Iraq and there is no turning back," McClellan proclaimed.

McClellan, a 35-year-old scion of a Texas political family, knows whereof he speaks. His democratic roots are deep.

The grandfather of Scott McClellan, Paige Keeton, a former dean of the law school at the University of Texas, is famous in Texas for defending the people's right not to receive large jury awards in medical malpractice cases.

His brother, Mark McClellan, is also a well-known people's advocate, vigorously defending the right to be safe from prescription drugs imported from abroad for lower prices. Only a few days ago, Scott McClellan's brother was seen on C-SPAN in his role as commissioner of the FDA, defending this right with great vigor and aplomb against Senators intent on taking it away.

Scott McClellan's mother, Carol Keeton Strayhorn, is, in her own small way, a warrior for democracy, too. A former mayor of Austin and Texas railroad commissioner, she is now Texas State Comptroller of Public Accounts. In this role she defends the people's right to pay higher fees for insurance premiums, co-payments, and health care contributions.

Scott McClellan's democratic credentials also include three stints as campaign manager for his mother.

In times like these, when democracy is threatened, it is comforting to know that the Keetons, the Strayhorns, and the McClellans maintain their tireless vigil for democracy with strength and resolve.



** At least 29 dead, 50 wounded **

March 17, 2004

BAGHDAD -- A powerful car bomb went off Wednesday night in central Baghdad, killing 29 people and wounding at least 50 others, senior U.S. military officials said.

U.S. officials believe the explosion was a suicide attack. It virtually destroyed the Mount Lebanon Hotel and damaged a number of nearby houses and offices.

The blast left a 20-foot crater as the hotel erupted into flames.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Peter Jones said emergency workers are no longer looking for survivors.

"It's now simply an effort to recover the dead," he told CNN.

Col. Ralph Baker, a U.S. Army spokesman, said officials believe the car bomb was at least 1,000 pounds.

The bomb used in Oklahoma City in 1995 was 2,000 pounds, according to CNN analyst Mike Brooks. He said the bomb used in the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia in 1996 was 5,000 pounds.

"It looks like the bomb was 1,000 pounds of plastic explosives and artillery shells mixed in with explosives to create more injuries on the scene," Baker said. "It fits the profile of the terrorist organizations we have been combating in the last year -- either Ansar al-Islam or the Zarqawi people."

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a wanted insurgent figure who the U.S.-led coalition suspects has al Qaeda links and is behind recent deadly strikes. Ansar al-Islam is a northern Iraq group with suspected ties to al Qaeda.

Most of the dead were in houses and shops that surrounded the residential hotel in the narrow street, Baker said.

The blast rocked the Karrada neighborhood in central Baghdad about 8:10 p.m. (12:10 p.m. ET).

U.S. electronics giant Motorola said "a handful" of its employees were staying in the Mount Lebanon hotel and at least one employee was injured.

All Motorola employees have been accounted for.

Another American company, CSC DynCorp., said that one of its employees sustained minor glass injuries from the blast but was not lodged at the hotel.

Ambulances carried wounded people, screaming for aid, away from the scene. Bystanders dug with their bare hands in the rubble, attempting to unearth victims.

Dr. Mazin Issa said people brought to the Baghdad hospital have head and abdomen injuries, broken limbs and severe burns.

"Many hysterical patients are coming to the hospital," he told CNN. "Complete families are coming from one building."

The rescuers searched amid burning timbers and crumpled brick for survivors.

The death toll is expected to rise as crews continue to search.

"It was huge boom followed by complete darkness and then the red glow of a fire," 16-year-old Walid Mohammed Abdel-Maguid, who lives near the hotel, told The Associated Press.

A U.S. soldier a mile away told the AP the blast felt as though it were next door.

Earlier, Iraqi police and coalition soldiers cordoned off the area. U.S. soldiers attempted to help rescue victims but were driven back by angry Iraqis.

The soldiers shouted at them to get back because of their concerns of additional explosives.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States is undeterred in its mission.

"This remains a time of testing in Iraq," McClellan said. "The stakes are high, the terrorists know the stakes are high. But they will not prevail. We will meet this test with strength and with resolve. Democracy is taking root in Iraq and there is no turning back."

FBI agents arrived at the bombing site early Thursday morning, Baker said. Senior U.S. officials in Washington said the FBI will participate in the investigation into the attack. A team of about 50 FBI agents was already stationed in Baghdad.

The explosion occurred near Firdos Square, where the large statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in April. This busy area of the city has been the scene of previous attacks.

The unfortified, unprotected Mount Lebanon Hotel often houses business people.

At least nine guests, including two Britons, were in the hotel when the bomb exploded, the hotel's managing director said. The guests' fate is unknown.

Also in the hotel were two Jordanians, two Egyptians, 20 Iraqi employees and the owner, who is Lebanese, the manager said.

The blast scene is close to the Palestine Hotel, where many foreign journalists stay.

Members of Iraq's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities also live in the area.

Adnan Pachachi of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council said he is appalled and distressed. "I don't know the purpose of this outrage or what's the aim," Pachachi said.

"Whenever they find a soft target with a lot of people, they want to maximize the losses, especially fatalities."

He said that there's "no absolute defense" against this kind of bombing.

In a phone interview, Baghdad police Brig. Gen. Thamir Sadoun said that foreigners are responsible for the attack.

"Iraqis never caused this kind of trouble to their neighbors," Sadoun said.

"They [the attackers] kill and kill and continue killing innocent people, children, women," he said. "Most of the Iraqis -- they like the way they are living now; they are feeling the real freedom for the first time. They [the attackers] don't like Iraq to be stable and develop and live in peace."

The attack comes as coalition forces began Operation Iron Promise, a citywide sweep for insurgents, almost a year after the war started.


**In other violence Wednesday, three U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi children were wounded by a bomb in south-central Baghdad, a military source said. The children and a soldier were evacuated to a combat hospital, where they were treated for shrapnel injuries. The other soldiers returned to duty.

**A 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment soldier died Wednesday when he was traveling in a convoy en route to Kuwait for redeployment, U.S. Central Command said. The soldier was injured badly when a passing vehicle struck his tank. He was evacuated to a combat support hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, the command said.

**Iraqi leaders have reached an understanding with the United Nations, asking for advisers to help them put together an interim government before the June 30 political handover, a British diplomat said Wednesday. Emyr Jones Parry, British ambassador to the United Nations, said the Iraqi Governing Council is planning to bring back U.N. experts to help advise the government that will assume power.

--CNN's Jane Arraf and Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.