Military Wiki
Canal Hotel Bombing
Location Baghdad, Iraq
Date August 19, 2003
16:28 – (GMT +3)
Target United Nations headquarters
Attack type
truck bomb
Deaths 22 plus a suicide bomber
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad

The Canal Hotel Bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, in the afternoon of August 19, 2003, killed at least 22 people, including the United Nations' Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and wounded over 100. The blast targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq created just 5 days earlier. (The United Nations had used the hotel as its headquarters in Iraq since the early 1990s.) The attack was followed by a second bombing a month later which resulted in the withdrawal of the 600 UN staff members in Iraq.[1] These events were to have a profound and lasting impact on the UN's security practices globally.[2][3]

Abu Musab Zarqawi, a leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for the blast.[4]

The bombing

In his book The Prince of the Marshes, British writer Rory Stewart recounts his experiences at the Canal Hotel the day of the bombing.

I had wandered past the security point without anyone attempting to search me or ask my business. The Iraqis coming in and out of the compound were good-humored. I had said to my friend that things seemed pretty relaxed. She had replied that the special representative was proud that Iraqis could approach the UN building -unlike in the Green Zone, whose barriers were a half mile from the main offices.

... I went to the canteen, where I sat from ten until two in the afternoon, talking to local NGO staff who came in to eat and use the Internet. I particularly liked a Tunisian security advisor who had served in the Balkans and was worried about terrorists targeting the UN.

I left at two, intending to return later in the afternoon to use the Internet. But when I came back at 4:30, a thick column of smoke was rising from either end of the building, families were screaming and pushing at a cordon of U.S. soldiers, and the woman who had served me my salad in the cafeteria was running toward us. In my brief time away from the building, a suicide bomber had driven his truck up beneath De Mello's office window.[5]

United Nations members prepare to load flag-draped metal transfer cases carrying the remains of bombing victims from the UN Office of Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI).

The explosion occurred while Martin Barber, director of the UN's Mine Action Service (UNMAS) was holding a press conference. The explosion damaged a spinal cord treatment center at the hospital next door and a U.S. Army Civil-Military Operations Centre located at the rear of the Canal Hotel, and the resulting shockwave was felt over a mile away.

US Colonels secure a United Nations Flag over the transfer case of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, prior to a memorial service at the Baghdad International Airport.

The blast was caused by a suicide bomber driving a truck bomb. The vehicle has been identified as a large 2002 flatbed Kamaz (manufactured in Eastern Europe and part of the former Iraqi establishment's fleet).[6] Investigators in Iraq suspected the bomb was made from old munitions, including a single 500-pound bomb, from Iraq's pre-war arsenal.

The OCHA Humanitarian Information Centre (HIC) for Iraq (UNOHCI) was located directly beneath the office of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and suffered a direct hit. Of the eight staff and one visitor in the office at the time, seven were killed instantly, but Sérgio Vieira de Mello and Gil Loescher were critically wounded and trapped in debris under the collapsed portion of the building. An American soldier - First Sergeant William von Zehle - crawled down through the collapsed building and worked to extricate the two men. He was joined later by another American soldier - Staff Sergeant Andre Valentine - and the two men spent the next three hours trying to extricate the two survivors without benefit of any rescue equipment. Loescher was rescued after having his crushed legs amputated by the soldiers, but Vieira de Mello died shortly before he would have been able to have been removed.[7]

According to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, de Mello was specifically targeted in the blast. The reason given by al-Zarqawi for targeting de Mello was that he had helped East Timor become an independent state (see the Indonesian occupation of East Timor). Zarqawi said that de Mello had participated in the unlawful removal of territory from the Islamic Caliphate and was therefore a thief and a criminal.[8][9]

Second bomb

The bombing was followed on September 22, 2003, by another car bomb outside the Canal Hotel. The blast killed the bomber and an Iraqi policeman and wounded 19 others, including UN workers. The second attack led to the withdrawal of some 600 UN international staff from Baghdad, along with employees of other aid agencies. In August 2004, de Mello's replacement, Ashraf Qazi, arrived in Baghdad along with a small number of staff.[10]

List of victims

Name Age Nationality Position
Sérgio Vieira de Mello 55  Brazil Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Iraq
Nadia Younes 57  Egypt Chief of Staff for Vieira de Mello
Fiona Watson 35  United Kingdom Member of Vieira de Mello's staff, political affairs officer
Jean-Sélim Kanaan 33  Egypt

 Italy  France

Member of Vieira de Mello's staff, political officer
Richard Hooper 40  United States Senior advisor to the UN Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Political Affairs
Manuel Martín-Oar 56  Spain Naval captain, assistant to the Spanish special ambassador to Iraq
Chritopher Klein-Beekman 32  Canada UN Children's Fund's program coordinator
Reham Al-Farra 29  Jordan Department of Public Information, Deputy Spokesperson
Martha Teas 47  United States UNOHCI Manager
Leen Assad Al-Qadi 32  Iraq UNOHCI Information Assistant
Ranillo Buenaventura 47  Philippines UNOHCI Secretary for Vieira de Mello
Reza Hosseini 43  Iran UNOHCI Humanitarian affairs officer
Ihsan Taha Husein 26  Iraq UNOHCI Driver
Basim Mahmoud Utaiwi 40  Iraq UNOHCI Security guard
Raid Shaker Mustafa Al-Mahdawi 32  Iraq United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC)
Gillian Clark 47  Canada Christian Children's Fund
Arthur Helton 54  United States Director of peace and conflict studies at the US Council on Foreign Relations
Dr. Alya Ahmad Souza 54  Iraq World Bank
Khidir Saleem Sahir  Iraq Civilian
Saad Hermiz Abona 45  Iraq Working for a UN subcontractor (Canal Hotel cafeteria worker)
Omar Kahtan Mohamed Al-Orfali 34  Iraq Driver/interpreter, Christian Children's Fund
Emaad Ahmed Salman al-Jobody 45  Iraq Electrician

Marilyn Manuel, a member of Vieira de Mello's staff from the Philippines, was originally listed as missing and presumed dead in the collapsed section of the building.[11] However, she had been evacuated to an Iraqi hospital which did not notify the UN of her presence. Her survival was confirmed four days later.[12]


After the 2003 invasion of Iraq American Marines occupied the building

We destroyed the U.N. building, the protectors of Jews, the friends of the oppressors and aggressors. The U.N. has recognized the Americans as the masters of Iraq. Before that, they gave Palestine as a gift to the Jews so they can rape the land and humiliate our people. Do not forget Bosnia, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Chechnya.

—Zarqawi, PBS Frontline[13]

As of 2006, the prime suspects in this bombing are followers of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had purportedly claimed responsibility for this attack. In January 2005, a top bombmaker for Zarqawi's group, Abu Omar al-Kurdi, was captured by the coalition and claimed his associates made the bomb used in this attack. On December 16, 2005, Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mullah Halgurd al-Khabir, a commander of Ansar al-Sunna, in connection with the attack.[14] In an audio tape quoted here, Zarqawi motivated the bombing of the UN building. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera identified the suicide bomber as Algerian national Fahdal Nassim.[15] Other suspects included Baathists, militant Sunni and Shiite groups, organized crime, and tribal elements. Blame was initially thought to lie with Ansar al-Islam, which was thought at the time to be Zarqawi's group. An otherwise unknown group called the "Armed Vanguards of the Second Mohammed Army" claimed they were responsible for the attack.[16]

Awraz Abd Aziz Mahmoud Sa'eed, known as al-Kurdi, has confessed to helping plan the attack for Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. al-Kurdi was captured, judged and executed by hanging on July 3, 2007.[17]


Question book-new.svg

The factual accuracy of this article may be compromised due to out-of-date information

The suicide bombing of the United Nations in Baghdad drew overwhelming condemnation. Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, commented that the bombing would not stop the organization's efforts to rebuild Iraq, and said: "Nothing can excuse this act of unprovoked and murderous violence against men and women who went to Iraq for one purpose only: to help the Iraqi people recover their independence and sovereignty, and to rebuild their country as fast as possible, under leaders of their own choosing."

However, since this event the UN country team's expatriates and leaders relocated in Amman (Jordan) and continued to work remotely. Only some Iraqis have continued under drastic security measures all around the country (except in Kurdistan where they are more numerous and can move more freely). Few expatriates are, 5 years later, authorized to go inside Iraq (including Kurdistan) and only inside huge security compounds such as the so-called "Green Zone" in Baghdad. Humanitarian support is now entirely conducted inside the country by NGOs, under UN remote supervision.

In 2004, Gil Loescher's daughter, documentary filmmaker Margaret Loescher, made a critically acclaimed film about her father's experiences called Pulled from the Rubble.[18]

The World Humanitarian Day

On 11 December 2008, the United Nations General Assembly made history when it adopted the Swedish sponsored GA Resolution A/63/139 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations,[19] that amongst other important humanitarian decisions, decided to designate 19 August as the World Humanitarian Day (WHD). The Resolution gives for the first time, a special recognition to all humanitarian and United Nations and associated personnel who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause and those who have lost their lives in the cause of duty and urges all Member States, entities of the United Nations within existing resources, as well as the other International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations to observe it annually in an appropriate way. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello and his 21 colleagues tragically made the ultimate sacrifices in the cause of duty following the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.

See also

  • Attacks on humanitarian workers
  • World Humanitarian Day


  1. Ghattas, Kim (11 August 2007). "Mixed feelings over UN Iraq role". BBC News. Retrieved February 6, 2011. 
  2. United Nations (21 August 2003). "Press Briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Spokesman for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Afghanistan". United Nations. Archived from the original on October 15, 2003. Retrieved February 6, 2011. 
  3. United Nations (19 August 2004). "UN wrestling with security questions one year after Baghdad bombing – Annan". United Nations. Retrieved February 6, 2011. 
  4. Benson, Pam (April 7, 2004). "CIA: Zarqawi tape 'probably authentic'". pub. Retrieved February 6, 2011. 
  5. Stewart, Rory (2006). The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq. Harcourt. pp. 101–103. ISBN 978-0-15-603279-7. 
  6. Baghdad blast crude but deadly
  7. OCHA bulletin tribute.
  8. Black Triangle » The UN bombers
  9. Don't bother looking for explanations for terrorist attacks. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine
  10. News 24 UN team in Iraq for rebuilding
  11. The Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of UN Personnel in Iraq
  12. Cardwell, Diane (23 August 2003). "First, Terrible News. Then a Call From Iraq Brings Joy.". The New York Times. 
  13. Frontline Iraqi insurgency
  14. Global Arrest warrant
  15. Global Terrorism Analysis
  16. Council on Foreign Relations The UN Attack
  17. Iraq hangs man who confessed to UN attack
  19. United Nations General Assembly Session 63 Resolution A-63-L.49.- | / | A-63-L.49 }} World Humanitarian Day {{#strreplace: - | / | A-63-L.49 }} 11 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.

External links

  • United Nations portal for the anniversary
    • PDF (176 KB) Kofi Annan's statement on the one-year anniversary
    • Senior WHO official, Dr David Nabarro, describes his experience inside the Canal Hotel
    • UN report PDF (711 KB) on the bombing, Oct. 22, 2003
  • PDF (90.5 KB) March 3, 2004 Report of the Security in Iraq Accountability Panel (SIAP)
  • The Canal Hotel UN Headquarters Compound

Coordinates: 33°20′01″N 44°28′02″E / 33.33361°N 44.46722°E / 33.33361; 44.46722

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