Fri, Oct 24, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Bomber targets Iraqi minister, nine dead


A suicide car bomber targeted Iraq’s Labor and Social Affairs minister during rush hour yesterday in Baghdad, killing at least nine people and wounding 14, officials said.

The blast occurred near Tahrir Square, a park in Baghdad that has recently been revitalized with playground equipment and benches amid a sharp decline in violence over the past year.

It underscored the continued dangers facing Iraqis despite a sharp decline in violence over the past year as suspected insurgents defy stepped-up security measures. Militants have also frequently targeted Iraqi government officials.

The attacker rammed the car into the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry convoy as it passed through the central Bab al-Sharji area, a ministry spokesman said.

The Shiite minister, Mahmoud Mohammed al-Radhi, escaped the attack unharmed but three of his guards were killed, the spokesman Abdullah al-Lami told the al-Arabiya TV station.

At least four other people were killed in addition to the guards and 14 people were wounded, said police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

“It is the latest in a series of criminal acts that are targeting development process in Iraq,” al-Lami said.

AP Television News video showed a burned SUV and the charred hulk of the apparent car bomb surrounded by Iraqi security forces. The windows of a nearby camera store were shattered, with torn pictures left among the glass.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice predicted on Wednesday that Washington and Baghdad would settle their differences and sign a security pact before the end of the year.

“I believe that both sides will get this worked out because both sides have a great interest in getting this done,” Rice told reporters during a flight from the US to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Rice said “there is still some time” to iron out differences with the Iraqis that are holding up a Status of Forces Agreement, which aims to govern the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq beyond this year.

“The [UN] Security Council resolution expires at the end of the year, but I don’t think we want to get to that point. I think we want to get this done more quickly than that,” Rice said.

The deal was originally supposed to have been sealed by the end of July.

It calls for pulling out US combat forces by the end of 2011 — more than eight years after the invasion — and includes US concessions on jurisdiction over its troops accused of “serious crimes” while off duty or off base.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Washington had now agreed to listen to requested changes to the controversial deal.

But the top US diplomat who said there were still “issues of jurisdiction” stopped short of committing the US to considering the proposed changes.

“It’s a good agreement and we have done everything we can to make certain that ... our troops are protected and Iraqi sovereignty is respected,” Rice said when asked if it was the last US offer.

The White House said the agreement, which had been the subject of months of tough negotiations, was more or less done, and that any amendments would merely be fine-tuning.

Iraq warned earlier that it would not be bullied into signing the pact, despite US leaders warning of potentially dire consequences if it failed to approve the deal.

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