- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

BAGHDAD — A suicide car bomber killed 17 Shi’ites at a teeming Sadr City market yesterday, while gunmen in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad shot up a convoy of democracy workers in an ambush that took the lives of an American woman and three bodyguards.

An Iraqi army officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said the attack on the Western convoy took place in Yarmouk, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad.

The three-car convoy belonged to the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, said Les Campbell, the not-for-profit group’s Middle East director. He said the four dead included an American woman along with three security contractors: a Hungarian, a Croatian and an Iraqi. Two others were wounded, one seriously, Mr. Campbell said by telephone from Washington. Their names were withheld until their families could be notified.

“It appeared to be an attack with fairly heavy weapons; we don’t know what kind,” Mr. Campbell said. “We have some information that a firefight ensued. Our security company responded to the attack.”

Mr. Campbell said the ambush took place at midday as the group returned from a program elsewhere in Baghdad.

The last known American female civilian to be killed was Marla Ruzicka, a 28-year-old rights activist from California who died in a car bombing in April 2005.

The suicide car bomb exploded a day after twin car bombs struck Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, killing at least 70 students lined up for the ride home in what appeared to be a renewed campaign of Sunni insurgent violence against Shi’ites. More than 130 were injured.

It was the single deadliest attack on civilians in Iraq since Nov. 23, when a series of car bombs and mortar attacks by suspected al Qaeda in Iraq fighters in Sadr City slum killed at least 215 persons.

Another suicide car bomb exploded earlier yesterday at a checkpoint in the city of Kirkuk after guards opened fire as the driver approached a police station, police said. The blast, in the center of the oil-rich city 180 miles north of Baghdad, killed eight persons and injured dozens.

Violence is rising in northern Iraq even as the government and U.S. forces prepare for a massive security operation aimed at stopping sectarian attacks in the capital.

The escalation of deadly attacks coincided with Tuesday’s release of U.N. figures that showed an average of 94 civilians died each day in sectarian bloodshed last year.

Two more American soldiers died this week, the U.S. military said. One soldier from the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division died yesterday from wounds sustained in an operation in Anbar, the Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad. Another soldier, from Regimental Combat Team 5, died Monday, the military said without elaborating.

The deaths brought the toll of U.S. military members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003 to 3,028, according to an Associated Press count.

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