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Suicide bombers strike Baghdad; six Cabinet positions approved
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two suicide car bombers plowed into a foreign security company convoy in the heart of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 22 people -- including two Americans -- in an attack that left a busy traffic circle strewn with burning vehicles, mutilated bodies and bloodied school children.
Nearly 300 people have been killed in insurgent violence since Iraq's democratically elected government was sworn in 10 days ago.
Seven government posts remained undecided until Saturday when Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he would submit nominations for six of them to the National Assembly for a vote today.
A Sunni military man, who fled into exile more than 20 years ago and only returned after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, was selected for the defense ministry, members of al-Jaafari's Shiite-dominated alliance said.
The U.S. military said the two suicide attackers crashed their explosives-packed cars into a three-vehicle convoy in Tahrir Square.
At least 22 people were killed, including the two Americans, who were employees of the company that owned the targeted SUVs, the U.S. Embassy said without identifying the company. Three other American civilians were injured in the attack, the embassy said.
Hospital officials said at least 36 Iraqis were wounded in the blasts.
Rescue workers lifted injured school girls onto stretchers, including one with bandages wrapped around her neck and blood streaming down her legs. Firefighters fought the blaze, which sent thick black smoke billowing into the sky.
Elsewhere, a U.S. Marine was killed by a bomb in Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have hit back at insurgents with a series of major raids across the country in recent months.
In a statement issued Saturday, the U.S. command said an April 26 raid netted a suspect described by the U.S. military as a key associate of Iraq's most wanted militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Ghassan Muhammad Amin Husayn al-Rawi had helped al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group arrange meetings and move foreign insurgents into the country.
Friday night, Iraqi soldiers fought suspected insurgents in Tal Afar, 90 miles east of the Syrian border, said Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Mohammed Abdul Qadir. He provided no details, but said 25 militants were killed. Witnesses claimed Iraqi soldiers also suffered casualties, but Qadir could not confirm that.
Al-Jaafari had hoped to curb support for the militants by including in his government members of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority, who dominated under Saddam and are thought to make up the bulk of the insurgency. But Shiite leaders have repeatedly shot down candidates advanced by Sunni hard-liners because of ties to Saddam's regime, which brutally repressed Shiites and Kurds.
So far, al-Jaafari's Cabinet includes just four Sunni ministers, but alliance lawmakers said Saturday the Sunnis would get three more ministries and a deputy prime minister's slot.
They include the key defense ministry, which will go to Saadoun al-Duleimi, said alliance lawmaker Nassar al-Rubaie.
Al-Duleimi is a former army lieutenant colonel who left Iraq in 1984 and lived in exile in Saudi Arabia until the fall of Saddam in April 2003. He is reputed to be a moderate with family ties to the restive Anbar province, the homeland of the insurgency.
Abid Mutlag al-Jubouri, a former major general in Saddam's army who rose to prominence during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, is slotted as the Sunni deputy prime minister.
The cabinet already includes a Shiite and a Kurdish deputy premier, and al-Jaafari said he hopes to nominate a woman in the fourth position.
The oil ministry will go to Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, a Shiite who held the post in the former U.S.-appointed Governing Council, Shiite lawmakers said. Mihsin Shlash, an independent Shiite lawmaker, is expected to be electricity minister.
Al-Jaafari declined to confirm any of the names, but said they have already been approved by President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents.
Meanwhile, Iraqi police continued to dig up bodies at a garbage dump on the northeastern outskirts of Baghdad. A dozen corpses were recovered Friday, some of them blindfolded and shot in the head, police said. At least four more were unearthed Saturday, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.
Families collected 14 of the bodies from Baghdad's main morgue Saturday morning and buried them in Madain, 12 miles southeast of the capital.
Abdul Razzaq Mutlak, brother of one of the victims, said they were all Sunni farmers who had come to Baghdad to sell their produce at Jamila market. Mutlak was with his brother early Thursday, he said, when men wearing police uniforms detained the farmers and took them away in three vehicles. He did not explain how he avoided being detained. Police officials said they were still investigating what had happened to the men.
Madain is at the tip of a notorious insurgent stronghold known as the Triangle of Death, which has seen frequent retaliatory kidnappings and killings between Shiite and Sunni groups.
Last month, scores of bodies were pulled from the Tigris River near Madain, and President Jalal Talabani claimed they were evidence of mass kidnappings and killings of Shiites. But when Iraqi security forces responded to reports of hostage-taking before the discovery of the bodies, the troops found no one being held captive.
Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahara contributed to this report from Baghdad.