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Iraqi minister has close call with a bomb

SHARE Iraqi minister has close call with a bomb

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq's interior minister narrowly escaped a roadside bomb blast Wednesday in a mainly Sunni part of the capital that U.S. officials had said had been virtually cleared of death squad cells.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, was traveling in an armored car in a convoy of about 10 vehicles when the bomb exploded in the Dora neighborhood. The blast killed two bystanders, including a 12-year-old, and wounded five traffic policemen, said Dora police officer Mohammad al Baghdadi.

It was not clear if he was the intended target or whether the bomb had been meant for a U.S. military convoy that was about 500 yards behind.

Al-Bolani is a senior member of Iraq's new unity government, which is struggling to put down a Sunni insurgency and sectarian fighting between Shiite and Sunni extremists in Baghdad.

Dora had become a hotbed of militancy and sectarian violence, particularly after a Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad, that stoked fears of a civil war in Iraq.

Dora residents had dubbed one street "death road" because of the frequent clashes there between insurgents and police.

But U.S. officials said last week they had virtually cleared Dora of death squad cells, insurgent sympathizers and extremists as part of a new security strategy to clean up the capital neighborhood by neighborhood. About 12,000 additional U.S. and Iraqi troops have been brought in to the capital as part of the security effort.

Another area targeted in the operation is the Azamiyah neighborhood in north Baghdad, where two mortar rounds exploded near a Sunni mosque Wednesday night, wounding seven civilians, said Sgt. Zekariyah Hussein of Azamiyah's police station.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside police headquarters in the northern city of Mosul, killing one person, while British officials said a barrage of 17 mortar rounds were fired at one of their bases in the south.

The suicide bomber in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, detonated his explosives when he was stopped at a checkpoint as he tried to enter the police building, said Maj. Gen. Wathiq al-Hamdani, the city police chief.

One woman was killed and 10 people were injured in the blast, he said.

Mosul, a predominantly Sunni Arab city, has been the scene of frequent attacks on Iraqi government facilities by Sunni insurgents.

The 17 mortar rounds were fired Tuesday at Camp Abu Naji, a British base in Amarah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, Maj. Charlie Burbridge, spokesman for British forces, said from Basra.

One British soldier was wounded and was hospitalized, he said.

One more mortar round landed at the camp Wednesday, but it did not cause any injuries or damage, he added.

Burbridge said the base, which has come under frequent attack over the past three years, was being closed down "imminently, in the next couple of days," as Iraqi forces were in a position to take over security in the area.

About 1,200 troops at the base would be repositioned to the east of Amarah and would focus on tackling smuggling, particularly of weapons, from across the border with Iran, he said.

Amarah is a predominantly Shiite city where anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia wields considerable influence. British troops have come under frequent attacks there.

In other violence in Amarah, gunmen on Wednesday shot dead a former brigadier who had served in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein, police said. Raad al-Najdi was gunned down in his pharmacy in the center of the city, Capt. Hussein Kerim of Amara police said.

Earlier in the day, an Iraqi army officer, 1st Lt. Hassanein Saadi al-Zerjawi, 29, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Amarah, police said.

A roadside bomb missed a U.S. military convoy in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad on Wednesday, killing two pedestrians and injuring 12, said Fallujah police Lt. Ahmed Salim.

Political and sectarian violence across Iraq last month claimed 3,500 lives, making July the deadliest month since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Since then, Sunni Arab insurgents have been regularly attacking U.S. and Iraqi troops, mostly in the Baghdad area and in the Anbar province to its west.