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Iraq's justice minister survives assassination attempt

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb near a convoy carrying Iraq's justice minister to his office on Saturday. The minister was not injured, but at least three of his bodyguards and one of his nephews were killed.

In northern Iraq, one U.S. soldier was killed and another was injured when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb near Baji, about 140 miles north of Baghdad. The soldiers were with the Ft. Lewis, Wash.-based Task Force Olympia. The military withheld their names pending notification of their families.

The attempted assassination of the justice minister, Malik Dohan al Hassan, occurred at 8:45 a.m. local time while he was riding in a seven-vehicle convoy about a quarter mile from his home in western Baghdad.

The explosion was one of four bombings in and around Baghdad that killed at least five Iraqis and injured at least 22 on Saturday, the 36th anniversary of the coup that solidified the power of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

Other explosions could be heard around the city at about 11:55 a.m. local time. The cause was the impact of approximately three rockets in central Baghdad, across the Tigris River from the fortified compound housing the Iraqi government and multinational forces, said Army spokesman Lt. Col. James Hutton of the 1st Cavalry. No deaths or injuries were reported, he said.

A militant group led by Abu Mussab al Zarqawi reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack on the justice minister. Zarqawi, a Jordanian, is suspected of being behind many of the bombings in Iraq.

Nine people were injured, including some civilians, said police and the Health Ministry. The Justice Ministry said the bombing killed five people and injured 30 to 40 people, mostly civilian bystanders.

Bodyguards jumped from their vehicles and fired automatic weapons to ward off any further attack.

The explosion and flames incinerated three convoy vehicles, peppered another with shrapnel and cracked the windshields of others. The minister's armored SUV shielded him from injury, and his driver rushed him from the scene, witnesses said.

The blast shattered windows in the neighborhood. Asad Mashkoor, 36, whose house is about 150 feet from the bomb site, said he and his family escaped serious injury, but his car and antiques in his house were damaged.

"Is the government going to take responsibility for this?" he said. "Are they going to compensate me for this?"

Two other attacks Saturday targeted an Iraqi police patrol in Baghdad and the Iraqi national guard headquarters in Mahmudiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Iraqi security forces are often attacked as collaborators of American-led forces in Iraq.

The bombing in Mahmudiyah killed one guardsman and injured 25 people, according to witnesses and early reports from the Health Ministry. The multinational forces press office later reported the number of injured as one guardsman and five Iraqi civilians.

No deaths were reported in the other two attacks. One occurred about two hours after the attack on the justice minister and a half mile away. Four Iraqi policemen were injured, one of them critically, when an improvised explosive device detonated as their Nissan pickup passed it.

After that explosion, another improvised explosive device in a different neighborhood was detonated, wounding three Iraqi civilians, according to the Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Saturday in his first press briefing since the June 28 restoration of Iraqi sovereignty that insurgents suspected of killing American troops would be ineligible for the interim Iraqi government's plan to offer amnesty to some anti-occupation fighters.

"I'm not aware of any provision in the draft for amnesty for those who might have killed Americans," Ambassador John D. Negroponte told foreign reporters.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi initially said those eligible for amnesty would include people who targeted U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces. He is expected to unveil his plan within days.

Also Saturday, about 65 miles west of Baghdad near Ramadi, insurgents shot and killed a Jordanian truck driver and then gouged out his eyes, news reports said. The driver was carrying supplies from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad.


(Knight Ridder correspondent Hannah Allam and special correspondent Yasser Salihee contributed to this report.)


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