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8 killed as suicide bomber attacks Baghdad police station

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into an Iraqi police compound Thursday and blew himself up, killing at least eight people, including four officers, and wounding more than 30.

Meanwhile, two gunmen shot and killed a Spanish military attache outside his Baghdad home.

And the U.S. military reported that a 4th Infantry Division soldier died after being wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade attack near the town of Baqubah, about 40 miles northeast of the Iraqi capital, where attacks on U.S. soldiers have been frequent.

The police station bombing in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City apparently was intended to inflame Iraq's Shiite majority. Relations between U.S. forces and Iraqi Shiites have been deteriorating in recent weeks, especially in Sadr City.

U.S. soldiers infuriated the neighborhood's Shiite residents two months ago when a helicopter crewman tried to remove a sacred religious banner from a telecommunications tower. The military apologized, but anti-American passions have remained high.

Many people in the neighborhood are followers of Moqtada al Sadr, a fiery young Shiite cleric who has spoken out against the U.S.-led occupation and the U.S.-backed Governing Council. Sadr does not represent the majority of Iraqi Shiites, but he has a big following in Baghdad.

This week tensions between his followers and American forces rose dramatically after U.S. soldiers arrested a Shiite cleric in another Baghdad neighborhood, for allegedly storing weapons in his mosque.

U.S. troops clashed briefly with militiamen around the mosque after more than 1,000 protesters blocked a highway, demanding the cleric's release. More than 5,000 Shiites marched in protest on Wednesday. The group's leaders warned they would turn to violence soon if the cleric is not released.

Iraqi Shiites also are angry that, during U.S. control of the country, one of their leading clerics, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al Hakim, was killed along with 78 people in a car bombing in August at a shrine in Najaf.

The shooting of the Spanish military official reinforced a perception in Iraq that anti-coalition guerrillas would target anyone who cooperates with U.S.-led forces, and it occurred when the United States and Britain are seeking more international help. Spain is the co-sponsor of a U.S.-British resolution that would slightly expand the U.N. role in Iraq, which now is limited to providing some humanitarian aid.

Witnesses to the car bombing said a man in a blue Oldsmobile followed a police car past a checkpoint and into the compound in Sadr City. Police fired on the vehicle as it sped past the checkpoint, but couldn't stop it.

"He was driving the car very fast, and as soon as the police car entered, he entered immediately after. He struck the Iraqi police car, and then his car exploded," said police Sgt. Mazzen Abdullah Muklik, 33, at al Kindi Hospital, where he was treated for injuries from the blast. Muklik's forehead was laced with cuts, and a bone protruded from his left arm.

Muklik said the driver's face was mostly covered by a checkered scarf, and he appeared to have wires wrapped around his chest.

"Those four policemen who were killed, all of them were my friends," he said, bursting into tears. "Why did they do this?"

U.S. military police cordoned off the area, but an angry mob of several hundred people gathered. Many of them threatened Western journalists with violence if they didn't leave. Fistfights broke out, and an Iraqi policeman was stabbed.

Sheik Amar al Yassari, who heads up the safety committee for the young cleric Sadr's office, said he believed the attack was carried out by loyalists of Saddam Hussein's former regime or by al-Qaida terrorists.

He also blamed the American presence.

"My opinion is that as long as the Americans remain in this city, it will not be stable," he said. "They should leave."

Several others in the neighborhood agreed.

"At first, relations with the Americans were good," said Abdullah Hassan, 35. "But then they started arresting our religious men and flying their helicopters over our area."

He said everyone would fight if senior Shiite clerics give the order.

The suicide bombing and the shooting of the Spanish military official follow a string of terrorist attacks and assassinations that began in early August with a truck bomb at the Jordanian Embassy and a massive bombing two weeks later outside the U.N. headquarters that killed 23 people, including the U.N.'s top envoy in Iraq.

To date, 92 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat over five months ago. More than 325 soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March.

The violence on Thursday came on the six-month anniversary of the liberation of Baghdad and on a day when coalition authorities were keen to highlight progress in Iraq.

"It looks to me as if the common theme behind these attacks is people who do not share the vision and hope for Iraq's future," said L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq. "The people who conducted these attacks have shown a wanton disregard for innocent civilian lives, and they should be condemned."

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers photographers David Gilkey and Travis Heying and special correspondent Ban Adil contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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