Blast kills 11, including 4 Americans, in Sadr City building

BAGHDAD — A bomb hidden in a meeting room killed two U.S. soldiers and two American government employees Tuesday at a local council office in the Baghdad district of Sadr City, according to the U.S. military.

An Italian working for the Defense Department also was killed, U.S. officials said. Iraqi authorities said six Iraqis also died in the blast, bringing the total death toll to at least 11.

An American soldier and 10 Iraqis were wounded, including three Iraqi council members.

In another attack, at least 90 civilians were wounded in Mosul when a car bomb exploded outside a coffee shop, U.S. officials said in a news release. The statement gave no details of the blast, except to say that the coffee shop was destroyed and that the injured had been taken to local hospitals. It was unknown if anyone had been killed.

U.S. spokesman Major Patrick Conway balmed the explosion on Sunni extremists. "This is yet another example of AQI's indiscriminant targeting of innocent civilians and their lack of value on life," he said, using the abbreviation of al Qaida in Iraq.

The Baghdad blast ripped through the municipal building just before elections to pick a chairman for a district advisory council in Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite Muslim slum that supporters of the militant cleric Muqtada al Sadr mostly control.

Lt. Col. Steven Stover, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, said the bomb appeared to target the main candidate for the post and the Americans visiting for a regular meeting.

Stover said U.S. troops detained three suspects who tested positive for explosives residue. American investigators blamed the attack on "special groups," the military's term for cells of Shiite extremists with alleged links to Iran. The Iranian government has denied that it's fielding terrorist groups in Iraq.

"We say special groups because we believe the perpetrator to be a criminal from the area, operating outside the law," Stover said, noting that the explosives were planted in the meeting room and weren’t the work of a suicide bomber. "We have a good idea who was behind the attack, but are not releasing any additional information."

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad announced that the government employees killed in the blast were civilians with the State and Defense departments. The State Department employee was identified as Steven L. Farley of Guthrie, Okla.

Farley was a member of what's known as an embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team for the Sadr City and Adhamiyah districts, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said. Such reconstruction teams work alongside Iraqi officials to restore services and security in volatile areas of Iraq. An embedded team means they are assigned to work as part of a military unit.

In Berlin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Farley's devotion to public service and said the deaths Tuesday were "a terrible reminder of the dangers that our colleagues face daily in advancing our critical foreign-policy goals."

An American and an Italian of Iraqi origin who was working with U.S. troops as an interpreter were the two Defense Department employees; their names were withheld pending notification of relatives.

The explosion was the third violent incident in two days involving members of Iraq's local councils, whom Iraqi militants deride as "collaborators" with the Americans.

Also on Tuesday, Iraqi police said they discovered the body of the council chairman for the Abu Disheer neighborhood in south Baghdad. He was a Shiite allied with Sadr's movement, police said.

On Monday, Sunni Muslim council member Raed Mahmoud Ajil, whom relatives described as having suffered from severe depression and epilepsy, opened fire on U.S. troops after a joint meeting on reconstruction in the city of Madain, south of Baghdad. Ajil killed two American soldiers before U.S. forces shot and killed him. Three other American soldiers and an interpreter were wounded.