Bloody day as 21 die in Iraq blasts

Two car bombs exploded in separate Iraq cities today, killing at least 14 Iraqis and one US soldier. Dozens were wounded, including 10 American soldiers. A US Marine was killed in action west of Baghdad.

Elsewhere, six coalition soldiers - two Poles, three Slovaks and a Latvian - were killed in an explosion while defusing mines south of Baghdad, authorities said. The explosion occurred in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad. The Slovaks and the Latvians were the first deaths from either of the two countries in Iraq, Polish officials said in Warsaw.

One of the car bombs blew up as a convoy of provincial council members passed by in the northern city of Mosul. The council members escaped injury but the Mosul deputy police chief was hurt but not seriously, officials said. Nine people died and about 25 were injured, the US military said.

In the other attack, a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb during rush hour outside the American forward operating base War Horse in Baqouba, about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.

At least five Iraqis and one American soldier were killed, the US military and police said. Fifteen Iraqis and 10 American soldiers were wounded while standing at a security checkpoint.

A US Marine was also killed in action, the military said Tuesday. The death occurred Monday in Anbar province west of Baghdad but the military released no further details.

The bombings are the latest in a series of attacks on US forces and their allies in the countdown to the handover of sovereignty in Iraq on June 30. A car bomb exploded Sunday near the gate of another a US-run base north of Baghdad, killing nine people and injuring 30 others - including two American soldiers.

The latest bombings occurred as the U.N. Security Council in New York prepares to vote on a US-British resolution outlining a blueprint for post-occupation Iraq and giving international support to the new Iraqi leadership.

Late Monday, the United States won important French and German approval for the resolution. The draft was revised four times over the past two weeks. It marks an end to the US-led occupation and defines the relationship between the new government and the US-led multinational force which will remain here after June 30.

US Ambassador John Negroponte said he expects the Security Council to approve the US-British resolution on Tuesday afternoon, and council diplomats said the vote could be unanimous.

"We think this is an excellent resolution," Negroponte said. It marks "the fact that Iraq is entering into a new political phase, one where it is reasserting its full sovereignty."

France's foreign minister told France-Inter radio Tuesday that his government would vote for the resolution despite objections over language defining the roles of the new Iraqi administration and the US-led multinational force. France is one of the five permanent council members that have veto power.

"That doesn't stop us from a positive vote in New York to help in a constructive way to find a positive exit to this tragedy," Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. "We would have liked more specifics on what will happen in terms of stability, but for us that is not sufficient reason to oppose this resolution."

The new Iraqi interim government has made security its top priority as it assumes more responsibility for running the country. The new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is close to the CIA and the State Department and as an exile leader headed an opposition group made up largely of former military officers who had broken with Saddam Hussein.

In an effort to improve security, Allawi announced an agreement Monday by nine political parties to dissolve their militias, integrating some of their 102,000 fighters into the army and police and pensioning off the rest.

The plan does not cover the most important militia fighting coalition forces - the al-Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - or smaller groups that have sprouted across the country since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003.

Those groups will now be considered illegal.

The main groups affected by the agreement are Kurdish peshmerga militiamen who fought alongside American troops during the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam. Most of the others had effectively dissolved already. The other main group still active is the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a mainstream Shiite party.

US officials want to disband the al-Mahdi Army and arrest al-Sadr for the April 2003 murder of a rival cleric, although authorities have deferred both goals to reduce tensions in the Shiite heartland south of Baghdad. Instead, the coalition has opted to let Allawi, himself a Shiite, and Shiite clerics deal with al-Sadr.

The agreement also does not cover the brigade organized by the US Marines to take control of the Sunni city of Fallujah after the end of the three-week siege in April. US officials described the Fallujah brigade as "a special auxiliary unit" under the nominal control of the Marines.

Most of the militias covered by the agreement were organized to fight Saddam. Under the program, the estimated 100,000 fighters will be treated as veterans - eligible for government benefits including pensions and job placement programs depending on their time in service.

Most are likely to be pensioned off or retained for civilian jobs under a $200 million program.

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