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Iraq's labor minister escapes suicide bombing

Baghdad blast leaves 11 dead, 22 wounded

A man swept debris from the gutter as a damaged car was towed away after a suicide car bomb targeting a government convoy in the Bab al-Sharji area of central Baghdad yesterday. The Iraqi military said nine people were killed and 26 wounded. A man swept debris from the gutter as a damaged car was towed away after a suicide car bomb targeting a government convoy in the Bab al-Sharji area of central Baghdad yesterday. The Iraqi military said nine people were killed and 26 wounded. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press)
By Kim Gamel
Associated Press / October 24, 2008
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BAGHDAD - A suicide car bomber drove into a Shi'ite government minister's convoy in the Baghdad morning rush hour yesterday, killing 11 people and wounding 22, said Iraqi government and hospital officials.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the attack left its chief unhurt but killed his nephew, who was in the minister's security detail. The dead included a total of four bodyguards and three police officers, according to a police officer at the scene. The blast left a 12-foot-wide crater and damaged dozens of the photography shops that the area where the attack took place, Tahrir Square, is known for.

The fuller casualty count was given by hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Reuters said one of its television camera operators saw a vehicle plow into a convoy of "six or seven" sport utility vehicles near Tahrir Square in central Baghdad.

The bomber's vehicle, a white 1979 Toyota Land Cruiser filled with explosives, burst into flames, and chaos ensued as police officers and bodyguards opened fire and other vehicles nearby crashed into one another or sped away.

The attack on the minister, Mahmoud Muhammad al-Radhi, was the second in four months against a member of the 40-person Cabinet, underscoring the continued perils facing Iraqis despite a sharp reduction in overall violence.

Salam Rzoki, 35, was walking to work at a nearby photograph developing center and said he was about 100 yards away when the vehicle exploded.

"Iraqi security forces deployed around the scene and started shooting randomly to keep people away," Rzoki said. "I tried to cross the street to help the victims but a policeman told me to stay away."

A spokesman for the labor minister, Abdullah al-Lami, was quoted by the Associated Press as telling Al Arabiya television that the bombing was "the latest in a series of criminal attacks that are targeting the development process in Iraq."

Also yesterday, US troops handed over control of Babil Province, a predominantly Shi'ite central province, to Iraqi forces.

Babil was once so filled with violence that the northern part of it was dubbed "the triangle of death" by US forces. It is the 12th of Iraq's 18 provinces to be handed over to the control of Iraq's own security forces.

Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin III, the second highest-ranking commander of US forces in Iraq, spoke at the transfer ceremony, calling the event a "milestone" in a province where militant attacks have decreased more than 80 percent in the last year.

Anxieties over the transfer of power rose this week when, early Tuesday morning, the departure of US troops from Sakhreya, a disputed area between Babil Province and Anbar Province, prompted a firefight between factions of the Sunni al-Bouisa tribe, one supporting the United States and the other sympathetic to Al Qaeda in Iraq, the domestic terrorist group that the US military says is led by foreigners.

Security officials in Diwaniya Province announced that a Wednesday night raid conducted by US and Iraqi special forces had succeeded in arresting two men near a cemetery in Najaf who they said were members of the so-called special groups, or Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias.

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