Bomb kills eight as Annan makes first visit to Iraq

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The Independent Online

A car bomb exploded in a crowded Baghdad market-place yesterday as United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan paid his first visit to Iraq since the US-led invasion.

While Iraqi government leaders were telling Mr Annan inside the heavily fortified Green Zone that they were winning the war against insurgents, the blast set fire to a row of shops, killing eight people and wounding 20 others. Twelve hours earlier gunmen had opened fire at the Oman embassy building, killing two people. It was the third killing of embassy employees in the past few days, following the murder of a member of the Sudanese embassy staff.

An Iraqi Red Crescent doctor said that 54 bodies had also been found buried in the rubble of a town near the Syrian border where US troops have been carrying out an offensive, Operation Steel Curtain. Dr Saif al-Ani said the dead included women and children. There was no immediate reaction from the military about the claims. A spokesman had acknowledged earlier this week that five civilians were inadvertently killed during an air strike.

Mr Annan's visit is the third in three days to Baghdad by an international public figure, after those of the UK's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. The UN Secretary-General said: "Reconciliation is vital. The political transition must be a process that is inclusive and transparent and takes into account the concerns of all groups."

There was corroboration yesterday on a website run by former Baath party members that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein's former deputy, had died. According to Iraqi, American and British officials, Douri was instrumental in forging links between Saddamists and Islamists such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the insurgency, and was responsible for some attacks for which the higher-profile Zarqawi received the "credit".

Douri, 63, had escaped attempts by coalition forces to capture him, but had been suffering from leukaemia for a long time.

Latterly, Douri had been overshadowed by Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. However, in November 2003 the US offered $10m for the "King of Clubs" in the Pentagon's "most wanted" playing cards pack.

Douri, who was balding but with distinctive red hair and moustache, started life as an ice seller in the streets of Mosul. He was one of three surviving plotters who brought the Baath party to power in a 1968 coup. He was accused of being involved in the decision to gas Kurdish villagers at Halabja in 1988 which led to 5,000 deaths; he was also in charge of the south of the country when the Shia intifada was put down with great brutality.