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Truck bomber kills 3, wounds 30 American contractors in Baghdad

Flames burn after a large explosion hit central Baghdad at dawn Wednesday, shaking buildings and covering the area in a large plume of black smoke, in Baghdad, Iraq Wednesday.
Flames burn after a large explosion hit central Baghdad at dawn Wednesday, shaking buildings and covering the area in a large plume of black smoke, in Baghdad, Iraq Wednesday.
Ben Curtis, Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi officials said Wednesday that 41 bodies — some bullet-riddled, others beheaded — have been found at two sites, and they believe some of the corpses are Iraqi soldiers kidnapped and killed by insurgents. At least 30 American contractors, meanwhile, were wounded by a suicide bombing near a hotel.

In another attack, interim Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafidh escaped assassination after gunmen opened fire on his convoy in Baghdad. One of his guards was killed and two others were wounded, police said.

A U.S. soldier was killed and another was injured Wednesday when a roadside bomb detonated as they were patrolling in the capital, the military said.

Authorities found 26 of the corpses late Tuesday in a field near Rumana, a village about 12 miles east of the western city of Qaim, near the Syrian border, police Capt. Muzahim al-Karbouli and other officials said.

Each of the bodies had been riddled with bullets — apparently several days earlier. They were found wearing civilian clothes and one of the dead was a woman, al-Karbouli said.

South of Baghdad in Latifiya, Iraqi troops on Tuesday found 15 headless bodies in a building inside an abandoned former army base, Defense Ministry Capt. Sabah Yassin said. The bodies included 10 men, three women and two children. Their identities, like the others found in western Iraq, were not known.

Yassin said some of the dead men in Latifiya were thought to have been part of a group of Iraqi soldiers who were kidnapped by insurgents in the area two weeks ago, Yassin said.

In the Baghdad suicide bombing, a garbage truck packed with explosives blew up outside the Agriculture Ministry and the Sadeer Hotel, which is used by Western contractors, killing at least three people, and wounding the 30 Americans, officials said. The bomber also died.

The U.S. Embassy said the 30 injured Americans were among 40 people hurt in the blast, but no Americans were killed. In an Internet statement, al-Qaida in Iraq purportedly claimed responsibility for the attack on the Sadeer, calling it the "hotel of the Jews."

The bombing shook nearby buildings in the heart of the capital, injuring dozens of people and sending up a huge column of acrid black smoke. Volleys of automatic weapons fire could be heard before and after the explosion.

Police said a group of insurgents wearing police uniforms first shot to death a guard at the Agriculture Ministry's gate, allowing the truck to enter a compound the ministry shares with the adjacent Sadeer hotel. Guards in the area then fired on the vehicle, trying to disable it before it exploded.

Officials at al-Kindi hospital said at least three dead and eight wounded were taken there. Ibn al-Nafis hospital counted at least 27 wounded, said Dr. Falleh al-Jubouri.

The truck blew up in a parking lot, where several burning vehicles were in flames and 20 others were damaged.

Two other car bombings were also reported. Police 1st Lt. Mohammed al-Duleimi said one car bomber targeted an American checkpoint outside a base in Habaniyah, 50 miles west of Baghdad. Another car bomb exploded near U.S. troops close to a U.S. base in Abu Ghraib, just west of the capital, police Lt. Akram al-Zubaie said.

Elsewhere, guerrillas struck a police patrol with a roadside bomb in the southern city of Basra, killing one policeman and wounding three more, Lt. Col. Karim Al-Zaydi said.

The attack against Iraq's interim planning minister was the latest by insurgents who have repeatedly targeted top Iraqi officials and civil servants viewed as collaborating with U.S. forces.

A woman who answered al-Hafidh's cell phone and refused to be identified confirmed he had survived the attack in the upscale Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour.

"Thank God, he's OK. He's fine," she said.

The violence came a day after the U.S. military announced it was speeding up an inquiry into the shooting death of an Italian agent killed Friday by U.S. troops at a Baghdad checkpoint — a friendly fire incident that has strained relations with Italy, a key American ally that sent 3,000 troops to Iraq. The agent was escorting Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the airport just after insurgents freed her.

The shooting that killed Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and wounded Sgrena, a 56-year-old journalist for the left-wing Il Manifesto newspaper, angered Italians and rekindled questions about the country's involvement in Iraq.

In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in his first major address since the shooting, said Calipari had U.S. military authorization for his operation to win the release of Sgrena.

He said their car stopped immediately when a light was flashed. The U.S. military has said the Americans used hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots to try to get the car to stop.

The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, which controls Baghdad, said the vehicle was "traveling at high speeds" and "refused to stop at a checkpoint."

"When the driver didn't stop, the soldiers shot into the engine block which stopped the vehicle, killing one and wounding two others," it said.

Berlusconi said friendly fire is "painful" to accept, but he reassured lawmakers that the United States is committed to finding out the truth.

"I'm sure that in a very short time every aspect of this will be clarified," he said.

President Bush sent a letter to Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi renewing his promise for a swift and thorough investigation.

U.S. officials said the inquiry will take three to four weeks, and Italian officials were invited to participate.