- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

BAGHDAD — Two car bombs exploded near the interior minister’s offices yesterday, killing 18 persons and wounding three dozen. Al Qaeda in Iraq took responsibility for the blasts, which caused the biggest death toll from an explosion in more than a month.

In a statement posted on the Internet, al Qaeda in Iraq, headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, said the bombings targeted police who were guarding the offices of Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, who is in charge of the nation’s police. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.

Mr. al-Naqib was in his office at the time of the attack, but he left to examine the damage and said he was fine. The explosions didn’t damage the building.

The blasts sent large plumes of smoke rising over the city and threw passers-by to the ground. The blasts blew out the windows of nearby restaurants in the upscale neighborhood of Baghdad, near the heavily fortified green zone.

Panicked students from a nearby secondary school wept and shouted that they weren’t going to attend classes anymore while waiting in the street for school buses or relatives to pick them up.

After clearing the area, U.S. forces set off a third car that apparently failed to explode earlier, police said. No one was injured in the last blast.

Interior Ministry official Capt. Ahmed Ismael said the first two blasts killed 18 persons and wounded 36. One government worker said five garbage collectors he was supervising were among the dead.

Yesterday’s death toll was the largest since a car bomb killed 47 persons on March 10.

Insurgents kept up attacks yesterday against Iraq’s security forces, which the U.S. military says must be able to impose a level of calm in the country before American troops can depart.

Gunmen hit police patrolling near the central Iraqi city of Baqouba, killing one officer and wounding three others, police said.

In the capital, attackers shot and killed 1st Lt. Firas Hussein as he made his way to work at Iraq’s intelligence service, police said.

In Kirkuk, seven gunmen riding in two vehicles fired on the police station just south of Kirkuk shortly after dawn, killing five police officers and one civilian, police said.

Militant group Ansar al-Sunnah claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in an Internet posting that its ?knights of Islam? attacked ?renegade policemen doing their morning training.?

Ansar al-Sunnah also said it had teamed up with Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq for an attack earlier this week in Kirkuk — an unusual mention of cooperation among Iraq’s disparate and sometimes competing militant groups.

In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown 80 miles north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded outside a U.S. military installation, injuring nine civilians and setting nearby houses ablaze, police said.

The U.S. military said one American soldier and two Iraqi soldiers were injured, but maintained no civilians were hurt.

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