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Iraqi justice minister escapes suicide bomb attack
Updated: 2004-07-17 16:59

A suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle as a convoy carrying Iraq's justice minister drove past in Baghdad Saturday, killing four people but not wounding the minister, police and U.S. troops at the scene said.

Another car bomb blast in Mahmudiya, just south of Baghdad, killed two Iraqi National Guardsmen and wounded 25 people, the latest in a series of attacks targeting Iraq's security forces.

A member of Muqtada al-Sadr's militia guards afternoon prayers in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, July 16, 2004. Al-Sadr's militia, who fought U.S. troops for two months, is quietly working to transform itself into a behind-the-scenes political power. [AP]
Witnesses said the Baghdad suicide bomber drove toward the convoy carrying Justice Minister Malik al-Hassan and then detonated his vehicle in a ball of flame.

"There was a blast alongside the convoy. A booby-trapped car came alongside and blew up," said Hussein Abed, a traffic policeman who raced to the scene after the blast.

Abdul Nasser Mohammed, an Iraqi bodyguard at the scene, said four people were killed in the explosion. He pointed at one destroyed car and said: "Two were killed in this car and all we found was body parts."

Five gutted cars were littered across the road, and Iraqis collected human remains from the street. One boy scooped up pieces of flesh using two cigarette packets. An Iraqi man collected remains on a tray, mostly unidentifiable apart from a piece of foot with the big toe still intact.

"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 U.S. 1st Cavalry Division.

Hospital officials said at least eight people were wounded.

"We were working as painters near the ministry house when suddenly there was an explosion," one of the wounded, Khalid Waleed, said as he lay in a hospital bed. "The glass shattered everywhere, hitting us."


Insurgents have repeatedly targeted top officials. Earlier this week a regional governor was killed when his convoy was ambushed. In May, a suicide car bomb attack killed Izzedin Salim, the president of the country's Governing Council.

A group linked to Jordanian born al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for both those attacks.

Zarqawi's group has also beheaded a U.S. and a South Korean hostage, and says it has killed one of two Bulgarians kidnapped in Iraq earlier this month.

Diplomats in Baghdad and Bulgarian officials said a headless corpse in an orange jumpsuit found in the Tigris River on Thursday was probably that of one of the Bulgarians. Hopes of finding the second Bulgarian alive were fading, they said.

"The information is unfavorable but we are still awaiting confirmation," Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg told reporters when asked about the fate of the second hostage.

Guerrillas in Iraq have also seized a Filipino driver and an Egyptian. The Philippines is withdrawing its small military contingent from Iraq ahead of schedule in an effort to save the life of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.

Washington has criticized the pull-out and Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has also urged foreign countries not to give in to insurgents and hostage takers.

The United States, which led the invasion that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein last year, says its coalition remains strong despite the Philippine decision to follow Spain, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras in pulling out.

De la Cruz said in a message he would be returning home, Arabic channel Al Jazeera said on Thursday. But the group holding the father of eight said it would free him only after Manila withdrew its last soldier.

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