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Car bomb kills at least 10 in Baghdad
Updated: 2004-07-14 15:24

A massive car bomb exploded Wednesday at a checkpoint near the area housing the U.S. Embassy and offices of the interim government in Baghdad, killing at least 10 people and wounding 40, including a U.S. soldier, authorities said.

A U.S. Army tank secures the area after a suspected car bomb blast near the so-called Green Zone in central Baghdad July 14, 2004. At least 10 people were killed in the explosion which occurred at the entrance to the Baghdad compound which houses Iraqi government offices and the U.S. Embassy. [Reuters]
Hours earlier, the Philippines said it has begun withdrawing its troops from Iraq, an apparent bid to placate militants who threatened to kill a Filipino hostage if the tiny contingent was not out by July 20.

Underscoring the urgency of the Philippines' predicament, militants in Iraq said they had killed a captive Bulgarian truck driver and threatened to put another Bulgarian hostage to death in 24 hours, Al-Jazeera television reported Wednesday.

The car that blew up Wednesday was packed with 1,000 pounds of explosives. The blast happened at the checkpoint leading to the parking lot, said Iraqi police Col. Majid Abdel Hamid.

Black and gray smoke poured into the air over the lot. Police cars and ambulances raced to the scene, and U.S. helicopters hovered overhead.

"We were gathering outside the convention center seeking jobs," said one witness, Alla Hassan. "We were thrown on the ground. Then I saw many dead people on the ground."

The area, formerly known as the "Green Zone," was once the headquarters of the U.S. occupation authorities. Now named the International Zone, it houses the U.S. and British Embassies, as well as the offices of the interim Iraqi government.

Smoke rises from the site of an explosion at the entrance of the so-called 'Green Zone' in Baghdad, Iraq July 14, 2004. The area was once the headquarters of the U.S. occupation authorities, but now houses the U.S. and British Embassies, with Al-Rashid Hotel in background and building at left was used by former ruler's military. [AP]
An American solider was slightly wounded, said Col. Mike Murray of the 1st Cavalry Division.

At al-Yarmouk hospital, Iraqis waited anxiously outside as the ambulances to arrive. Doctors worked frantically to cut bandages and tend to the wounded. Men arrived on stretchers, splattered with blood.

The blast occurred on a holiday marking the 46th anniversary of the bloody nationalist coup that killed the last king, Faisal II.

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi later visited the site and said the bombing came in retaliation for arrests of terrorism suspects, though he offered no details on who the suspects were or when they were arrested.

"This is a new crime that shows that the forces of evil are trying to harm the Iraqi people," Allawi said. "The civilians who met martyrdom today were job-seekers. The government will do its best to arrest those criminals."

He said 10 were dead and 40 were wounded.

"We will crush those terrorist soon," Allawi said.

A Reuters driver suffered a shrapnel wound in the leg, agency spokeswoman Susan Allsopp said from London. The driver's condition was not considered serious.

The attack followed a relative lull in Baghdad, but the insurgents still appear to be strong - as evinced by the aftershocks from the kidnapping of the Filipino, Angelo dela Cruz.

Dela Cruz's captors said they would treat him like a prisoner of war if Manila made a good-faith move toward withdrawing its 51 troops early and would free him if the pullout was completed by July 20. The government statement Wednesday did not clarify when the pullout would be finished but appeared directed toward that demand.

A family member kisses an injured relative at a hospital following a car bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq July 14, 2004. The car bomb exploded at a checkpoint near an area housing international offices and embassies in Baghdad.[AP]
"The Foreign Affairs Ministry is coordinating the pullout of the humanitarian contingent with the Ministry of National Defense," the statement said. "As of today, our head count is down from 51 to 43."

The government was already set to withdraw its troops by Aug. 20. A full withdrawal before then would be a major blow to the unity of U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

The statement was vague, following a pattern of unclear statements as the Philippines has tried to both save dela Cruz and avoid the impression that it's giving in.

Yet dela Cruz's family celebrated the announcement and a Philippine official in Baghdad said there was no longer any risk of him being executed.

Roy Cimatu, Manila's special envoy for the Middle East, said Wednesday that the hostage was reported "alive and well" by Philippine officials negotiating for his release.

There was no immediate U.S. comment to the latest announcement, but U.S. officials had earlier expressed displeasure that Manila was even considering caving in to the kidnappers' demand, a position echoed by Australia and Iraq's new interim government.

A deadline set by the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps for the Philippines to meet the group's troop withdrawal demand expired early Tuesday, but negotiations continued in Iraq through intermediaries.

The insurgents had told President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that dela Cruz, a poor father of eight, already had been moved to the place he would be killed if she didn't change her mind.

Other militants, Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group, had threatened to kill the two Bulgarian truck drivers if the United States did not release all Iraqi detainees by last Saturday.

In a video broadcast on Al-Jazeera, the group said it had carried out its threat against one of the men and would kill the other in 24 hours.

Three men with their faces covered by black masks stood over a kneeling hostage, identified by reporters as Georgi Lazov, 30. The video contained the killing but it was not broadcast because it was too graphic, said Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout. Al-Jazeera later reported the man's throat was slit.

The militant group earlier claimed responsibility for beheading of American businessman Nicholas Berg and South Korean translator Kim Sun-il. It is also blamed for attacks that killed 100 people ahead of the transfer of power to Iraqis last month.

Bulgaria identified the other hostage as Ivaylo Kepov. The two were kidnapped while traveling to Mosul in northern Iraq. They were last heard from June 29.

Bulgaria, which has a 480-member infantry battalion in Iraq, had sent diplomats to Iraq to try to negotiate the men's freedom.

Also, an insurgent group holding an Egyptian driver demanded Wednesday that the Saudi company he works for pull out of Iraq within 72 hours, Al-Jazeera reported. The group did not issue a specific threat.

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