Rocket Almost Hit UN Chief

ReutersBan ducking after the explosion.
BAGHDAD -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was unharmed after a rocket landed near Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office in Baghdad on Thursday while the two men were speaking to reporters.

Two Iraqi security guards on the grounds outside the building were slightly wounded, security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Witnesses said they saw a crater one meter in diameter about 50 meters from the building in which the news conference was being held.

Two cars were damaged by the explosion.

Maliki's security officials said it was a rocket attack. U.S. helicopters were quickly in the air headed in the direction from which the rocket was fired.

Small chips of debris floated down from the ceiling above the UN chief after the big explosion rattled the building in the heavily fortified Green Zone. He looked frightened, casting his eyes right and left as he rose after ducking behind the podium where he was answering questions with the prime minister. A few minutes later, a worried Ban turned to one of his aides and asked: "Is it OK?"

Maliki said nothing was wrong as one of his security men moved to protect him. The rocket landed as one of Ban's replies was being translated into Arabic.

Maliki then proceeded to answer a question and while that response was being translated, he turned to Ban and asked: "That's enough?" Ban replied: "Yes."

Ban and Maliki were speaking to reporters after meeting for about one hour in the Green Zone. Ban was to leave Baghdad later Thursday. His trip marked the first Iraq visit by the UN's top official in 17 months. His predecessor, Kofi Annan, was in the Iraqi capital in November 2005.

Maliki had just finished telling reporters that Ban's visit was a sign that Iraq was on the road to stability when the blast occurred.

"We consider this a positive message to [the] world in which you [Ban] confirm that Baghdad has returned to playing host to important world figures because it has made huge strides on the road toward stability," Maliki said in his opening remarks.

Annan pulled all UN international staff out of Iraq in October 2003, after two bombings at UN headquarters in Baghdad and a spate of attacks on humanitarian workers. The first bombing, on Aug. 19, 2003, killed the top UN envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others.