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Car bomb kills 4 Iraqis near site of Iraqi leader's assassination

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A massive car bomb exploded Monday in a crowded Baghdad neighborhood, killing four Iraqis and wounding more than 25 in a blast that showered human flesh and car parts for several blocks.

The bomb was detonated by remote control in the Harithiyah district, about half a mile from where the Iraqi Governing Council chief, Izaddin Saleem, was assassinated in a similar bombing May 17, a U.S. military spokesman said. The offices of Iyad Allawi, the Iraqi prime minister-designate, are not far from the area, but the target of Monday's blast remained unclear, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military spokesman.

The usual targets—American troops, Iraqi security forces and politicians—were not in the area when the explosion occurred just after 1 p.m.

In other development, the U.S. military announced the deaths of four soldiers. Two were killed in a homemade bomb attack in Baghdad. The others died in continued clashes between U.S. troops and Shiite Muslim militiamen in southern holy cities, breaking a cease-fire reached Thursday for the fourth straight day. At least 20 members of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia also died in the violence in Kufa.

The U.S.-appointed Governing Council and occupation authorities still could not agree Monday on a new government to rule Iraq until elections by January 2005. Some council members said the dispute over who will be the country's figurehead president was expected to be resolved Tuesday, after which the new government is expected to be announced.

Before Monday's car bomb in Baghdad went off, children were playing in the streets and groups of men had gathered to talk, several witnesses said. Smoke covered the scene and body parts, including a severed hand carried by a teenager, were scattered throughout the affluent neighborhood. Parents combed the streets for their children and cursed what they called the failure of the U.S.-led coalition to provide security a year into the occupation.

"These operations will never end as long as the Americans are here," said a man who identified himself only as Ismail, complaining to Iraqi police near the 8-foot-deep crater where the car exploded. Hours later, U.S. troops defused a second car bomb nearby.

"I know," agreed one officer, Adel Mehdi. "A day when we don't see these bombings anymore is the hope of every Iraqi."

Local children pointed out a severed head and other remnants of the blast that interrupted their playtime. They ride bikes and kick footballs in the streets these days, they said, because their parents have forbidden them from going to a nearby park for security reasons.

Shahad Mohamed, 12, collapsed in the arms of an Iraqi policeman when she failed to find her father after the blast. Her mother and sister sobbed as Shahad screamed at journalists and bystanders with a message usually heard from much older Iraqis.

"My father! What will we do?" she yelled. "This is the destruction for all Iraqi people, not just us. I'm calling on all Iraqis: take care of your people."

Four cars were destroyed, the windows of several houses were shattered and live electrical wires dangled dangerously close to residents. U.S. soldiers unrolled coils of concertina wire and pushed back bystanders in a drill that seemed like second nature to them by now.

One soldier, who later said he thought he'd seen a muzzle flash, fired his gun at the scene, sparking pandemonium as dozens of people ran for cover. Television cameras were toppled and some residents were trampled in the stampede.

"You can't imagine how my heart was beating," said 12-year-old Abdul Muhayneen, who ran from the scene with other young boys. "What is our fault? What did we do?"

Hareth Kadhim, 22, wrapped his hand in a plastic bag and volunteered for the grim task of helping police gather bits of flesh and evidence. He swooped to pick up parts of a brain, glaring all the while at U.S. troops. A blood-spattered woman's sandal lay nearby.

"This was a human being, someone ordinary," Kadhim said. "Look at our democracy and proud future."

Around the corner from the bombing site, a car peeled into the driveway of a home damaged by the explosion. Alaa al Kawak leaped from his car and gathered his three young children in his arms. His two daughters and son cried in their father's embrace.

"I left everything when I heard the explosion was in my neighborhood," Kawak said. "Now, it's just like my soul is returning to me."

His wife, Wafaa Sahib, said she had been celebrating the end of the school year with her children. She paused to console a neighbor whose niece was rushed to the hospital, then continued talking about her kids:

"I feel like I need to just carry them and fly away," she said. "Just fly away to anywhere safe."

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(Moran reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

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