Mon, Feb 26, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Baghdad blasts kill at least 22

MORE DEVASTATION In one attack, a minibus exploded a short distance from the Iranian embassy. Several unexploded shells were found at the scene

AFP , BAGHDAD

Insurgent bombers launched yet another blitz across the Iraqi capital yesterday, killing at least 22 people outside a business school and setting off a minibus bomb near the Iranian embassy.

Doctors at the Imam Ali hospital in the Sadr City district of east Baghdad said they had received the bodies of 22 people and were treating more than 30 seriously wounded after a suicide bomber attacked a crowd of students.

The bomber triggered his explosive vest outside the School of Economy and Administration in east Baghdad, where the students are mainly Shiites.

The school is an off-campus annex of Mustansiriyah University, which has previously been targeted by Sunni extremists, most recently on Jan. 16 when a twin bomb attack killed at least 70 people and wounded around 140.

In another attack, Iranian officials said their compound had not been deliberately targeted, but a minibus exploded only a short distance away, amid mounting tension over Tehran's relations with its war torn neighbor.

The blast erupted at 8:45am during the busiest period of the morning rush hour, when nearby roads were packed with motorists and pedestrians heading for work, many of them in nearby Iraqi ministries.

The Iranian embassy was not damaged, but amid the wreckage could be seen at least four unexploded artillery shells rigged to the bomb. Had they detonated as well, widespread devastation would have ensued.

"The police told us that it was a Kia minibus, and that two people were killed. It was close to the embassy, but we weren't the target," Iranian diplomat Khalil Saadati said.

An Iraqi defense ministry official confirmed that two civilians died in the blast and said eight more were wounded.

The blast ripped the bus apart entirely, leaving only the battered engine block amid scorch marks and a spray of deadly shrapnel. US Blackhawk choppers clattered overhead as a cloud of dust drifted over the embassy.

Later, a car bomb had wounded five shoppers in the busy Karrada district, defense and medical officials said.

Car bombs explode in Baghdad every day, as insurgent groups target the US-backed government and rival Sunni and Shiite factions fight a bloody sectarian turf war for control of the capital.

Death squad murders are down this month, however, since the launch of a city wide security crackdown by up to 90,000 US and Iraqi police and troops. But bombing continues and fighting has intensified on the outskirts of Baghdad.

US artillery responded to insurgent mortar fire in the rural southern suburb of Boaitha, rocking Baghdad with a series of thundering blasts.

On Saturday, a suicide bomber had attacked the home of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a party founded by exiles in Tehran and which retains close ties to Iran.

Washington accuses Iran of smuggling sophisticated weapons to Iraqi Shiite parties -- in December US forces arrested an alleged Iranian special forces officer in Hakim's compound -- and of funding sectarian militias.

On Friday, US forces arrested Hakim's son Ammar al-Hakim as he returned across the border from Iran.

He was released the same day, but his detention nevertheless triggered massive protests in Shiite cities.

Earlier this month, Iran's role in Iraq came under the spotlight once more, when US commanders and senior Iraqi officials claimed that radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had decamped across the border.

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