Suicide car bomb wounds Iraqi deputy minister outside his home

Sunday, May 23, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A suicide car bomber killed four people and slightly wounded a deputy interior minister on Saturday in the second such attack on a senior Iraqi official in Baghdad this week -- both claimed by the same al-Qaida-linked group.

A statement by the group posted on the Internet said Saturday's bomber came from Syria, bolstering long-standing U.S. claims that foreign fighters are involved in insurgent attacks in Iraq.

Fighting flared anew in the Shiite holy city of Najaf and nearby Kufa between American soldiers and the Shiite militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, with bursts of heavy mortar and machine gun fire heard about midnight.

Saturday's suicide blast outside the home of Abdul-Jabbar Youssef al-Sheikhli, the deputy interior minister in charge of security, hurled two cars onto the front lawn of his house. Police fired warning shots to disperse distraught bystanders who scuffled with them after the attack.

Al-Sheikhli was injured in the forehead and right arm, said Hassan Hadi, a Health Ministry official.

Bodyguards fired on the bomber's car as it approached, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. Three bodyguards and a woman were killed as well as the bomber, he said. Earlier, Iraqi authorities said four police died.

Al-Sheikhli belongs to the Shiite Muslim Dawa party, which lost a prominent member in another fatal car bombing on Monday. The president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Dawa member Izzadine Saleem, was killed along with six other people near the headquarters of the U.S.-run coalition in the capital.

The Monotheism and Jihad Group, which claimed responsibility for Saleem's death, said it carried out the attack Saturday as a warning to the United States and its allies.

"They will not be safe from the hand of God's retaliation, then the mujahedeen's, and that they should be ready," said the statement, posted on an Islamic Web site.

The group's leader is believed to be Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian wanted by the United States for organizing al-Qaida operations in Iraq and suspected of beheading American civilian Nicholas Berg.

In Najaf, south of Baghdad, fighting broke out Saturday between U.S. forces and al-Sadr's militia near the city's police directorate and the governor's office. At least 10 people were injured in the Saturday clashes, which erupted again about midnight, according to Radhi Kadhim, a nurse at al-Hakim Hospital.

Residents of Najaf reached by telephone said they could hear the sounds of automatic weapons fire and explosives late Saturday coming from Najaf's twin city, Kufa, but efforts to reach anyone there were unsuccessful.

On Friday, five people were killed and 29 injured in Kufa in clashes between al-Sadr's fighters and U.S. troops after the arrest of Mohammed al-Tabtabaei, an aide to the fiery cleric, a hospital employee said on condition of anonymity.

There was no combat in Karbala, another holy city where intense battles have occurred. Residents said there were no combatants on the streets, and al-Sadr's office said militiamen and U.S. forces had agreed to withdraw from the city.

Kimmitt said the coalition had repositioned some forces, but had not withdrawn. Early Friday, U.S. troops pulled out of a central mosque that they had occupied after ousting insurgents who had used it as a base.

"The police chief from Karbala in fact came to us the other day and said he was encouraged to start bringing back in Iraqi police into the city of Karbala," Kimmitt said.

Iraqi leaders in Karbala have been trying to negotiate an end to the fighting, though coalition officials have stood by their position that al-Sadr disband his militia and "face justice." The cleric, who launched an uprising against the coalition last month, is wanted in the murder of a rival moderate cleric last year.

Kimmitt said efforts to end fighting in Sadr City, an al-Sadr stronghold in Baghdad, had broken down because coalition forces continue to be attacked. Troops had temporarily suspended patrols to give tribal leaders time to negotiate with the militia.

Seven mortar rounds landed north of downtown Baghdad on Saturday, Kimmitt said. Two coalition soldiers and an Iraqi civilian were slightly injured.

In another area of Baghdad, a rocket struck a two-story house near the former Ministry of Information. There were no reports of casualties.

Meanwhile, a military official said the U.S. Army has rejected an attorney's request to move the court-martial of a soldier accused of abusing prisoners out of Iraq.

Gary Myers, an attorney for Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick II, said in a request rejected May 14 that moving the trial to Europe or the United States was the only way to guarantee the safety of witnesses and lawyers, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Frederick is one of seven military police accused of abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. His trial will be in Baghdad's Green Zone, a heavily fortified area that houses coalition headquarters.

The request was denied by Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, the officer in charge of convening courts-martial in Iraq, Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a spokeswoman in Baghdad, told The Associated Press

Morgenthaler said the Green Zone is a "secure place" for the proceedings.

On Wednesday, another soldier accused in the case, Spc. Jeremy Sivits, received the maximum penalty of a year in prison and a bad conduct discharge in the first court-martial stemming from the abuse of Iraqis.

Associated Press correspondent Fisnik Abrashi contributed to this report from Karbala.

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