- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s deputy prime minister, a Sunni who crossed the country’s sectarian divide to join the Shiite-led government, was wounded Friday in a suicide bombing at a mosque in the courtyard of his home. Nine people were killed, police said.

The bomber blew himself up as Salam al-Zubaie, one of two deputies to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and other worshippers were leaving the mosque near the heavily fortified Green Zone, according to police and a Sunni politician. It came after a statement purportedly by al-Qaida in Iraq singled out the Sunni deputy prime minister as a stooge “to the crusader occupiers.”

Police said a car parked nearby exploded at about the same time.

Dhafer al-Ani, a lawmaker from the Sunni Accordance Front, said al-Zubaie was in stable condition after surgery to remove shrapnel. U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said al-Zubaie was in a hospital run by the U.S. in the Green Zone but would not comment on his condition.

Police said nine people were killed in the attack, including an adviser to the deputy prime minister, and 14 were wounded, including five of al-Zubaie’s bodyguards. The adviser, Mufeed Abdul-Zahra, was wounded and died later at the hospital.

Police said the attack occurred as worshippers were leaving, while al-Ani said the bomber blew himself up inside the mosque during the traditional weekly prayer service.

Baghdad authorities have imposed a weekly four-hour vehicle ban on Fridays to protect the services from suicide car bombers.

The mosque was built inside the courtyard of al-Zubaie’s compound in a residential area behind the Foreign Ministry, but worshippers can access it from the street outside, al-Ani said. The compound is near the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government headquarters.

Friday’s bombing came a day after a rocket exploded 50 yards from the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a news conference in the Green Zone, causing him to cringe and duck just minutes after Iraq’s prime minister said the visit showed the city was “on the road to stability.”

Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government has been quietly pushing for a greater U.N. role and was banking on decreased violence in the capital to show that it was returning to normal six weeks into a joint security crackdown with American forces.

An al-Qaida umbrella group in Iraq purportedly denied Friday that chlorine was used in recent bombings in Anbar province but warned that it would target all tribes and politicians supporting U.S. efforts in Iraq.

The United States has sent about 30,000 additional troops to support the efforts to pacify the capital, as well as Anbar.

An American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in western Baghdad and a Marine died in combat in Anbar province, the U.S. military said Friday. Both deaths occurred Thursday.

At least 3,229 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

While the fighting in Baghdad has been between Shiites and Sunnis, there has been more of an internal struggle in the Sunni-dominated province that stretches west of the capital to the borders with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The U.S. military said three suicide bombers driving trucks rigged with tanks of toxic chlorine gas struck targets in the Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad last week, killing at least two Iraqi policemen and sickening 356 people.

The three bombings, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents, raised to seven the number of chlorine attacks launched since Jan. 28, causing the U.S. military to warn that insurgents are adopting new tactics in a campaign to spread panic.

The Islamic State of Iraq, which groups al-Qaida in Iraq and several other Sunni extremist groups, said its duty was to “purify these tribes from those outlaws” who support the U.S.-backed government. But it denied using “poisonous gas” against civilians, calling the chlorine claims propaganda.

“There are some people who choose to be helpers to the crusader occupiers and their stooges, those who try to save the crusaders and they were the last card used by the U.S. army in its war against the true mujahedeen (holy fighters),” the group said in an Internet statement. The statement could not be independently verified, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used by militant groups.

The statement singled out al-Zubaie and Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, as well as the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of clans in the province backing the government.

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