Tue, Nov 21, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Bomb nearly hits Iraqi minister

OFFICIAL TARGETSThe attack against Minister of State Mohammed Abbas Auraibi came on the heels of the kidnapping of the deputy health minister

AP , BAGHDAD

A roadside bomb exploded near a convoy carrying Iraq's minister of state yesterday, narrowly missing him but wounding two of his bodyguards.

The attack came one day after suspected Sunni Muslim insurgents kidnapped another Cabinet minister, Deputy Health Minister Ammar al-Saffar, a Shiite, from his home in northern Baghdad, the Iraqi army and police reported. They said the gunmen wore police uniforms and arrived in seven vehicles to abduct al-Saffar, who was believed to be the most senior government official ever abducted in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Minister of State Mohammed Abbas Auraibi, a member of Iraq's Shiite majority, said the roadside bomb exploded at about 9:30am yesterday as his convoy was driving on a highway in eastern Baghdad.

"I was returning from an official visit to Amarah when our convoy was attacked," he said in a telephone interview. "Thank God the two guards were only slightly injured."

Amarah is a mostly Shiite city 320km southeast of Baghdad.

For the second time in two days, coalition forces raided Sadr City in Baghdad yesterday. The stronghold of a Shiite militia is suspected of having carried out the mass kidnapping at the ministry.

Iraqi forces searched and damaged a mosque during the operation, but made no arrests, the US military said. The Iraqi forces, acting with the assistance of US military advisers, also destroyed a vehicle near the mosque that was posing a threat to the ground forces, the coalition said.

Iraqi and US forces suffered no casualties.

In Sadr City, witnesses and an official at the main office of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said that in addition to the mosque, coalition forces searched several homes, arrested three Iraqis and briefly clashed with Mahdi Army militiamen. Speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern for their own security, the witnesses and official said the raid began at about 3am.

The operation was called in the large Shiite slum of eastern Baghdad to search for a cell of more than 30 Iraqis who are "responsible for kidnapping, torturing and murdering Iraqi civilians and soldiers," the US military said.

It said the cell allegedly used the mosque compound as a place to conduct such crimes and store weapons, the coalition said in a statement.

In Baghdad yesterday morning, the bodies of 14 Sunni Arabs who had been kidnapped from their homes by men disguised as policemen also were found, authorities said.

The victims, who were taken hostage in the mostly Sunni area of Dora of southern Baghdad on Sunday night, were found lying on a street in nearby Oreij, a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood of the capital, police First Lieutenant Ahmed Hamid said.

Ranging in age from 20 to 45, the men had been tortured and handcuffed, Hamid said.

The bodies of four men also were discovered at 10am in the mixed Iskan neighborhood in northwestern Baghdad, police 1st Lieutenant Thayer Mahmoud said. The identities of the victims were not known.

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