- Associated Press - Monday, April 18, 2011

BAGHDAD (AP) — Suicide bombers detonated two explosives-packed cars Monday outside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, killing at least nine people and wounding 23, officials said.

The blasts marked the start of a violent day in the Iraqi capital, where two more bombings and a jewelry heist left three more dead and 15 wounded.

The twin suicide car bombs rattled windows across Baghdad shortly after 8 a.m. The cars blew up just outside a security checkpoint on a heavily traveled road leading into the Green Zone from Baghdad’s international airport.

Pieces of charred flesh still were scattered at the scene hours later as a tow truck hauled away a wrecked Iraqi Humvee and other bombed-out cars.

Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a Baghdad military spokesman, said the bombers appeared to be targeting the motorcades of two senior government officials — one from the military, the other from the Cabinet — who were headed to work. He declined to elaborate.

The explosion set ablaze some of the cars that were waiting to be cleared into the Green Zone, which houses Iraq’s parliament and ministry offices, as well as several foreign embassies.

Two police officers and an official at al-Yarmouk Hospital said nine people, including five Iraqi soldiers, were killed and 23 people were wounded in the attack. Gen. al-Moussawi put the number of dead at six, with 14 wounded, but added that “this is not a final death toll.”

Conflicting casualty numbers are common in the immediate aftermath of attacks.

Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi said one parliamentary worker was killed and four more were wounded. A statement on the parliament website said that al-Nujaifi adviser Amjad Abdul-Hamid was the target of the dual bombings. Mr. Abdul-Hamid was not hurt in the attack, but one of his bodyguards was killed.

Mr. al-Nujaifi said the government’s reluctance to name new defense and interior ministers has contributed to instability in Iraq. The posts have been empty for nearly four months as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, and political parties squabble over who should get them.

“The current security situation indicates that there are serious security breaches and the government must work to avoid such breaches and eliminate the terrorist groups,” said Mr. al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Muslim. “We have to expedite naming the security ministers, and we have to choose qualified ones who can run these sensitive jobs — especially during this transition period as we discuss the withdrawal of the U.S. forces.”

Violence has ebbed across Iraq since the worst days of sectarian fighting just a few years ago that brought the country to the brink of civil war. But deadly bombings and shootings still occur on a near daily basis as insurgents seek to highlight Iraq’s continued instability as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw by the end of the year.

A few miles away, two more roadside bombs exploded a few minutes after the checkpoint blasts in what appeared to be an unrelated strike. Police said nine passers-by were wounded in the attack outside a restaurant in Jadriyah, a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood.

By midmorning, attackers hit another frequent target in the capital: jewelry stores.

Officials said two carloads of robbers stormed two jewelry shops in Baghdad’s eastern al-Amin area, sparking a shootout with police. A shop owner and a customer were killed, and police also shot dead one of the robbers before the attackers fled with a bag of gold and gems.

Four passers-by also were wounded, according to police and an official at al-Kindi Hospital.

Authorities believe insurgent groups increasingly are turning to robberies and other crimes to fund terrorist activity.

Government workers also are commonly attacked, and an Iraqi Central Bank adviser escaped an assassination attempt Monday morning when his convoy hit a roadside bomb on an eastern Baghdad highway. The adviser was not hurt, but two of his guards were wounded, police and hospital officials said.

Associated Press writers Lara Jakes and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

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