UN guards face bomb questions

Investigators are reported to be examining whether Iraqi guards at the United Nations compound in Baghdad may have been involved in the attack which destroyed the building on Tuesday.

Anonymous US and UN officials are quoted as saying that some of the guards hired by the UN to protect the building had links to the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

At least 20 people were killed - including the UN envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello - and 100 injured in the blast.

UN security co-ordinator Tun Myat is travelling to Baghdad to assess the risks involved in continuing operations in the country.

The UN's humanitarian work in Iraq is due to resume on Saturday, although the number of staff has been reduced by around 100 and non-essential staff are being moved to bases in other countries.

Mr Myat said they had begun building a wall around the Baghdad compound when the bomb, contained in a truck, exploded. But he warned: "The UN cannot possibly operate in a fortress mentality".

A senior US official was quoted by the New York Times as saying investigators in Iraq were focusing their inquiries on the possibility that the attackers had help from guards inside the UN compound.

"We believe the UN's security was seriously compromised," the official said, adding that "we have serious concerns about the placement of the vehicle" and the timing of the attack.

'Targeted attack'

An anonymous UN official told French news agency AFP: "They clearly had support from Iraqi security guards inside who gave intelligence to the planners of the attack.

"It was a well prepared attack... They knew where Vieira de Mello's office was and they knew they would find him in his office and they packed the vehicle with the maximum amount of explosives.

"The vehicle was positioned in the spot where it would make that part of the building collapse."

However, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard has publicly voiced doubts over the assertion.

Telling the New York Times of Mr Myat's mission to Iraq, he added: "The task is not made easier by the conspiracy theories circulating. We'll have to separate as best we can fact from speculation."

FBI investigators are already in Baghdad helping to search through the rubble of the devastated building for clues about the attack.

They are trying to track down details of a number plate, believed to have come from the truck, which was found 500 yards from the site.

FBI special agent Thomas Fuentes said the 454 kilograms (1,000 lbs) of explosives appeared to have come from Saddam Hussein's pre-war arsenal.

He added that it was not yet established whether the bomb had been made by Saddam Hussein followers or activists from another country.