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At least 5 die in failed attacks on 2 Iraqi government officials

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Assassins attacked two Iraqi interim government ministers with bombs about a half-hour apart Tuesday in southeastern Baghdad but failed to kill or injure either official.

The first explosion, a suicide car bomb around 8 a.m., targeted interim Environment Minister Mishkat Moumin, as her convoy left a guarded and barricaded compound where many Iraqi ministers live and work.

The next explosion, a roadside bomb about six miles away from the morning's first attack, targeted interim Education Minister Sami al Mudhaffar as his convoy passed.

The bombings killed at least five people and drew some attention away from clashes in Najaf. In the holy city about 100 miles south of the capital, Iraqi and U.S. forces have been engaged in often fierce fighting with firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia for more than two weeks.

The Tawhid and Jihad group of the al-Qaida-linked militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the first attack in a statement posted on an Islamic Web site.

"We tell her and her gang that you survived our arrows today, but there are many other arrows in the quiver that will not miss their targets, God willing," said the statement, whose authenticity could not be confirmed.

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Khadim said the government was investigating the attacks.

Previously, al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for a July assassination attempt on interim Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan.

At least five people died in the attack on the environment minister, including four bodyguards and the suicide bomber. An Iraqi police commander said the bodies at the scene were bodyguards and that at least 10 bystanders were injured.

The bomber, possibly in a Volvo or Volkswagen, detonated the explosion while parked in an intersection, according to police and witnesses. The blast left the street littered with car parts and some human remains for several hundred feet.

The explosion jarred awake Abdullah Hussein Ali, whose house is near the bombsite. The blast sent glass slicing into his neck and damaged his three cars, two of which were in his garage.

It also blew out windows in other nearby homes and tossed the body of a man over a 12-foot-high concrete blast wall along the street. Police discovered the body only after noticing blood on the wall.

Police identified the man as a bodyguard. "We have his badge and his gun," said Police Lt. Thair Ahmed.

Three other bodies at the scene were badly burned. The police commander said the bomber's body probably disintegrated in the explosion.

No one was killed in Tuesday's second bomb attack, on the education minister. However, at least four people were injured.

Groups opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government often target officials of the interim government as well as Iraqi security forces.

Kadhim, the interior ministry spokesman said that while he could not lay blame for the attacks on al-Zarqawi, the investigation would likely lead to one of two conclusions.

"It is either members of the ex-regime or extremist groups," he said.

Elsewhere in Baghdad on Tuesday, fighters loyal to al-Sadr were planting roadside bombs in a neighborhood on the capital's eastern edge and just south of Sadr City, a sprawling slum where the radical cleric has many followers.

Al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, and U.S. forces have fought fiercely in and around Sadr City in recent weeks as the showdown in Najaf has continued. One 16-year-old fighter said al-Sadr had issued orders to keep U.S. forces out of the neighborhood south of Sadr City.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Omar and Ali Jassim contributed to this report.)

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

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