A series of bomb blasts rocked Baghdad yesterday as insurgents targeted a police checkpoint near the government compound, killing at least two people, fired mortar bombs into a park and attacked a US patrol.
The attacks came the day before the trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was due to resume and as political parties prepared for talks on forming a coalition government the US hopes will undermine support for a Sunni Arab insurgency.
A new judge will take charge temporarily of the tribunal trying Saddam and seven co-defendants in the 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shiite men from the town of Dujail, an Iraqi official said yesterday.
A Kurd, Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, will take charge of the trial that resumes today, replacing existing chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who submitted a letter of resignation on Jan. 15 amid complaints of government criticism in the trial, said Raid Juhi, the chief investigator who prepared evidence for the Dujail case.
Juhi said Iraqi authorities were unable to resolve the standoff with Amin, also a Kurd, whose resignation was the latest complication in the case which has already seen two defense lawyers assassinated and a judge step down.
Despite increased security throughout Baghdad, a suicide car bomber struck a checkpoint into the Green Zone, close to the Iranian embassy, which staff said was not damaged in the blast.
Television pictures showed a burnt-out police vehicle still smouldering and the twisted, wreckage of the bomber's car. A foot lay among the blast debris scattered in the street.
Police said two people were killed and six wounded -- three civilians and three policemen. Minutes later a roadside bomb exploded in the al-Waziriya area, wounding two people.
Several mortar bombs fell short of the Green Zone into a park that also houses Baghdad Zoo and an amusement park. Police said no one was injured.
A car bomb blast hit a joint US-Iraqi patrol in southern Baghdad, wounding two civilians, police said.
The Interior Ministry said a security clampdown in the capital was still in force amid fears that Sunni Arab rebels, angered by the results of a Dec. 15 election that confirmed the dominance of Shiite Islamists, would launch more attacks.
"We are expecting a rise in attacks by gunmen because of the results of the election," a ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Political parties had until midnight last night to submit their complaints about the Dec. 15 election. The results were officially announced last week after allegations of electoral fraud had been investigated.
The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance led the field with 128 of 277 parliamentary seats, followed by the Kurdish Alliance with 53 seats and the Sunni National Accordance Front with 44.
Iraq's Electoral Commission will have 10 days to adjudicate on the complaints, but President Jalal Talabani said the victorious factions will begin talks on forming a new government today.
He said that no time limit had been imposed: "There is no time ceiling to form an Iraqi government. Enough time should be given for talks with the objective of letting all parties participate in the forthcoming government."