- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

BAGHDAD — A roadside bomb exploded yesterday alongside the convoy of a prominent Shi’ite cleric whose high-level political ties have made him the target of past assassination attempts. The imam was not injured, but several bodyguards were wounded.

The attack on Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer came during one of Baghdad’s quietest days in months — with one reported car bombing and one fatality.

Sheik al-Sagheer, an ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said his convoy was attacked in a Sunni area of southwest Baghdad while en route from the airport.

In June, a shoe bomber killed 10 persons during prayers in his mosque in northern Baghdad. Two month earlier, suicide attackers killed at least 85 persons as they left the mosque.

The relative lull in violence yesterday offered authorities a rare breather after periods of almost hour-by-hour bombings and mortar strikes by suspected Sunni insurgents.

But the calm was broken after nightfall. The rumbling of artillery fire was heard throughout Baghdad.

The barrage highlighted the enormous security challenges of a planned international conference on ways to rebuild and stabilize war-weary Iraq. The gathering hopes to bring together a broad range of Western and Islamic nations, including the United States and pivotal Iraq neighbors Syria and Iran.

In the Sunni militant stronghold Fallujah, a bomb-rigged car exploded near a convoy of cars heading to a police officer’s wedding. At least five persons were killed and 10 wounded, police said. The bride and groom were not harmed.

In northern Iraq, meanwhile, a U.S. Army helicopter made a “hard landing,” but the military said the problem was mechanical and not the result of hostile fire. The two-member crew suffered injuries, the military said.

The OH-58 Kiowa, which is mostly used in surveillance but for some light combat missions, went down in an area around Kirkuk about 180 miles north of Baghdad.

Last week, ground fire forced a Black Hawk helicopter to make an emergency landing north of Baghdad, the military said. At least eight other U.S. helicopters have crashed or been brought down by hostile fire in Iraq this year.

The U.S. military also announced the killing Wednesday of a Marine in western Anbar province, a center of the Sunni insurgency.

Northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said U.S. and Iraqi troops killed 10 militants and seized six weapons stashes in Diyala province. The raids were carried out over the past three days, the military said.

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