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Canal Hotel bombing

Coordinates: 33°20′01″N 44°28′02″E / 33.33361°N 44.46722°E / 33.33361; 44.46722
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Canal Hotel bombing
Part of Iraqi insurgency (2003–2006) and Iraqi insurgency (2003–2011)
LocationBaghdad, Iraq
Date19 August 2003
16:28 – (GMT +3)
TargetUnited Nations headquarters
Attack type
Truck bomb
PerpetratorsJama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad[1]

The Canal Hotel bombing was a suicide truck bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, during the afternoon of 19 August 2003. It killed 23 people, including the United Nations' Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and wounded over 100, including human rights lawyer and political activist Amin Mekki Medani. The blast targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq created just five days earlier. (The United Nations had used the hotel as its headquarters in Iraq since the early 1990s.) The 19 August bombing resulted in the withdrawal within weeks of most of the 600 UN staff members from Iraq.[2] These events were to have a profound and lasting impact on the UN's security practices globally.[3][4]

The attack was followed by a suicide car bomb attack on 22 September 2003 near U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing a security guard and wounding 19 people.[5]

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of terrorist organization Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, in April 2004 claimed responsibility for the 19 August blast.[1]



In his book The Prince of the Marshes, British politician and writer Rory Stewart recounts his experiences at the Canal Hotel on 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.[6]

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

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.[citation needed]

U.S. officers 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).[7] Investigators in Iraq suspected the bomb was made from old munitions, including a single 500-pound aerial bomb, from Iraq's pre-war arsenal.[citation needed]

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 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 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. 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 before he could be removed.[8]

According to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Vieira de Mello was specifically targeted in the blast. The reason given by al-Zarqawi for targeting Vieira de Mello was that he had helped East Timor become an independent state (see the Indonesian occupation of East Timor). Zarqawi said that Vieira de Mello had participated in the unlawful removal of territory from the Islamic Caliphate and was therefore a thief and a criminal.[9][10]

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.[11]

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
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
Christopher 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 U.S. Council on Foreign Relations
Alya Ahmad Souza 54  Iraq World Bank
Khidir Saleem Sahir  Iraq Civilian
Ali Mohammed Hindi  Iraq Civilian
Saad Hermis Abona 33  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.[12] 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.[13]

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, in a tv program of FRONTLINE, 21 February 2006.[14]

In an audiotape, published 6 April 2004 on a website and "probably authentic" according to CIA, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed credit for a number of attacks, including the 19 August 2003 bombing on U.N. quarters in Baghdad.[1] By December 2004, The Jamestown Foundation considered Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad responsible for this attack.[15] In February 2006, the TV programme Frontline[14] presented an audiotape of Zarqawi — possibly the tape of April 2004 — in which Zarqawi motivated the bombing of the UN building: U.N. = "protectors of Jews (given them Palestine so they can rape the land and humiliate our people) and friends of the (American) oppressors".[14]

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 the attack. On 16 December 2005, Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mullah Halgurd al-Khabir, a commander of Ansar al-Sunna, in connection with the attack.[citation needed]

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera identified the suicide bomber as Algerian national Fahdal Nassim.[16] 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.[17]

Awraz Abd Aziz Mahmoud Sa'eed, known as al-Kurdi, confessed to helping plan the attack for Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. Al-Kurdi was captured by U.S. forces in 2005, judged and sentenced to death by an Iraqi court and executed by hanging on 3 July 2007.[18]



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.[citation needed]

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 were killed following the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.[citation needed]

See also




A documentary produced in 2009 and a movie released in 2020, both titled Sergio, deal with the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Canal Hotel bombing.


  1. ^ a b c Benson, Pam (7 April 2004). "CIA: Zarqawi tape 'probably authentic'". CNN. Archived from the original on 3 October 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  2. ^ Ghattas, Kim (11 August 2007). "Mixed feelings over UN Iraq role". BBC News. Archived from the original on 1 September 2022. Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  3. ^ 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 17 July 2022. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
  4. ^ United Nations (19 August 2004). "UN wrestling with security questions one year after Baghdad bombing – Annan". United Nations. Archived from the original on 28 March 2022. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
  5. ^ "Blast Near Baghdad U.N. Compound". CBS News. 22 September 2003. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Baghdad Bomb Crude But Deadly". CBS News. 21 August 2003. Archived from the original on 14 June 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  8. ^ "OCHA". OCHA. Archived from the original on 25 February 2023. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  9. ^ "The UN bombers". 16 July 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  10. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (3 October 2005). "Don't bother looking for explanations for terrorist attacks". Slate Magazine. Archived from the original on 31 August 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  11. ^ News 24 Archived 2006-10-20 at the Wayback Machine UN team in Iraq for rebuilding
  12. ^ "ReliefWeb - Informing humanitarians worldwide". reliefweb.int. Archived from the original on 9 May 2023. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  13. ^ Cardwell, Diane (23 August 2003). "First, Terrible News. Then a Call From Iraq Brings Joy". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 5 April 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2017.
  14. ^ a b c 'The Insurgency' Archived 16 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Transcript from an episode of Frontline from 21 February 2006. Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  15. ^ Gambill, Gary (16 December 2004). "Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi: A Biographical Sketch". Terrorism Monitor. 2 (24): The Jamestown Foundation. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  16. ^ "Terrorism Monitor - The Jamestown Foundation". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  17. ^ "Explainers". Council on Foreign Relations. Archived from the original on 26 April 2023. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  18. ^ "National Post". nationalpost. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  19. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 63 Resolution A-63-L.49. World Humanitarian Day A/63/L.49 11 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.

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