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Spc. Karl Pesak was just 15 meters away from a rocket explosion inside a compound used by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq late Tuesday.
Spc. Karl Pesak was just 15 meters away from a rocket explosion inside a compound used by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq late Tuesday. (Ward Sanderson / S&S)

BAGHDAD — A rocket exploded outside a convention center and across the street from a military hotel Tuesday night, tearing through the air and sending an alarm wailing through downtown.

The 9:40 p.m. attack slightly injured one soldier but did not damage the convention center or Al-Rasheed Hotel. The U.S.-led coalition uses the center for news conferences and other meetings. The hotel houses military officials and civilian government workers.

A quick-response team arrived at the scene shortly after the attack, said Air Force Capt. Dave Malakoff, a military spokesman. The fire of automatic weapons and sound of low-flying helicopters could also be heard during the evening.

The rocket landed only 15 meters from Spc. Karl Pesak. The soldier was back on duty the next day but suffering from a case of whiplash.

“We’ve had rocket attacks over the back of the Al-Rasheed and attacks on the compound,” Pesak said. “But when one hits right by you, all you see is orange and red, and it shakes you up pretty good.”

The military found no major damage or additional injuries the next morning, said Master Sgt. Sonja Whittington, a military spokeswoman.

The Tuesday attack is the second on the U.S.-led coalition’s facilities in downtown Baghdad this week. A suicide bomber killed 20 people and wounded 63 others after detonating a truck bomb at the Assassin’s Gate access to the coalition headquarters area, or Green Zone, at about 8 a.m. Sunday. Witnesses reported that a white Toyota pickup truck had tried to run the checkpoint to get as close to the gate as possible.

Hotels in particular have become a favorite target of guerrillas. Insurgents rocketed the Al-Rasheed on Oct. 26, killing a lieutenant colonel and injuring 18 others. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying in the hotel at the time but escaped harm.

Guerrillas attacked the Burg al-Hayat hotel on Jan. 9 with several rocket-propelled grenades, according to news reports. The attack shattered windows, but no one was hurt. That hotel is popular with foreigners on business.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, rockets struck the Ishtar Sheraton Hotel and the Burg al-Hayat. On Nov. 21, both the Sheraton and nearby Palestine hotels were attacked by insurgents firing rockets from a donkey cart.

Westerners such as government contractors and journalists live in the Sheraton and Palestine, and military and civilian guards protect them through a perimeter of several checkpoints.

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