Sunday, July 18, 2004

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber attacked the convoy of the Iraqi justice minister here yesterday, killing five bodyguards, but leaving Malik al-Hassan unscathed. It was one of a cluster of attacks that left eight dead and more than 50 injured in the third straight day of renewed violence.

Another car bomb killed two Iraqis in Mahmudiyah, and insurgents attacked a gas pipeline and hurled grenades into a police station — attacks that may have been connected to the anniversary of the Ba’ath Party’s ascent to power 36 years ago.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who arrived in Iraq three weeks ago to take the helm of the largest U.S. Embassy in history, told reporters yesterday that security problems continued to plague political and reconstruction efforts.

“What we’re trying to do is empower Iraqis to take on a greater responsibility for their country,” he said.

Tawid and Jihad, a terrorist cell led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi, appeared to take responsibility on an Islamist Web site for the attack on the justice minister’s convoy.

U.S. military officials at the scene told reporters that a suicide bomber drove into the back of the convoy, not far from the minister’s home. Mr. al-Hassan, riding toward the front of the line, was not harmed, although his nephew was killed in the attack.

Hospital officials said at least eight persons were wounded.

The car bomb left a two-foot-deep crater in the middle of the street, and incinerated five vehicles nearby.

“What I want to highlight is that this is clearly a terrorist attack by people who do not want to see this country move forward,” said Col. Michael Formica of the 1st Cavalry Division.

Shortly after the attack, insurgents set off another explosion targeting a police patrol near Mr. al-Hassan’s house, badly injuring two police officers, police told the Associated Press.

Also yesterday morning, a car bomb exploded outside an Iraqi National Guard headquarters in Mahmudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad. Two persons were killed and 47 wounded, hospital officials told Reuters news agency.

Most of the injured were prospective recruits waiting to enter the headquarters.

Militants also killed police chief Lt. Col. Rahim Ali in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, as he drove to work.

In other attacks yesterday, a would-be insurgent killed himself trying to install an explosive beneath a natural-gas pipeline in Riayd, about 30 miles southwest of Baghdad. Officials said the pipeline was not damaged.

North of Baghdad, a roadside bomb in the town of Baiji killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another. The death brought to 655 the number of American troops killed in action in Iraq since the invasion last year to oust dictator Saddam Hussein.

In Hawijah, 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk in the north, gunmen opened fire on a police station, wounding two officers in a 30-minute gunbattle, police said.

In western Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded near a police vehicle, wounding four officers.

The attempt on Mr. al-Hassan was the fourth aimed at interim government officials last week alone.

On Wednesday, unknown assailants detonated a car bomb at a checkpoint just outside the blast walls of the green zone, home to the caretaker government as well as U.S. and British embassies and staff.

The governor of Nineveh, a large and prosperous province in central-northern Iraq, was assassinated later that day in Mosul.

And Thursday, a convoy thought to be transporting Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was attacked, killing two guards and a lesser official.

Mr. Negroponte indicated at a luncheon yesterday that Washington had prevailed in scotching the Iraqi government’s offer of amnesty to some insurgents who had attacked U.S. troops inside Iraq.

The government’s amnesty declaration has been delayed for several weeks, foundering on behind-the-scenes negotiations that critics say will severely limit those who benefit, and hamper efforts to welcome disaffected Iraqis back to the political process.

The continued unrest in Baghdad and predominantly Sunni areas to the north and west has begun to erode support within the multinational force, which has been authorized by the U.N. Security Council as a temporary peacekeeping measure.

The Philippines contingent has dropped to 40 soldiers from 51, as troops and other Philippine nationals drove over the border to Kuwait late Friday.

Manila has promised to withdraw its troops this month — a month earlier than scheduled — to win the release of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz, a father of eight who was taken hostage by Tawid and Jihad earlier this month.

The insurgents say they will not release him until the last Philippine soldier has left the country.

The pullout is popular at home, but President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has weathered severe criticism from Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and U.S. officials for caving in to terrorist demands.

The employer of an Egyptian man held hostage by insurgents told Al Jazeera television that he would be freed today, days after the company said it had agreed to an insurgent demand to leave Iraq.

Washington has worked hard to woo more foreign governments to contribute to the stabilization of Iraq, by writing off debt, training police or soldiers, or financing reconstruction projects.

But Mr. Negroponte acknowledged yesterday that there had been few offers of assistance.

“We’d like other G-7 countries to follow our lead on debt forgiveness,” he said, adding that U.S. officials had also tried to get new nations to contribute to the multinational force or a smaller force tasked with protecting only U.N. installations.

“No takers yet,” he said, “but it’s a gradual process.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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