Three die in Iraq 'ambulance bomb'

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A car bomb shattered the front of a hotel used by westerners in Baghdad yesterday, killing three people, as the United Nations was assessing whether it is safe to send a team to Iraq to study prospects for direct elections.

The bomb may have been in an ambulance driven into the front of the three-storey Shaheen hotel in the Karadah neighbourhood. "We were at our post when a car came rushing at us," said Abdulamir Kraybot, a bodyguard for Iraq's minister of labour who lives in the hotel. "We opened fire on it but we couldn't stop it and then it blew up."

The attack was part of a campaign using large bombs in cars and trucks that began on 7 August when a truck bomb killed 17 people outside the Jordanian embassy. Suicide bombers often drive as close to a target as they can before detonating the explosives. The most common targets are Iraqis, frequently the police, or foreigners deemed to be assisting the US.

The bomb at the Shaheen came after a particularly bloody few days, with a dozen US soldiers killed since last Friday, most of them by roadside bombs.

Two CNN staff - a translator and a driver - were also killed when they were ambushed south of Baghdad.

The explosion at the Shaheen, which ripped apart its interior, came as a UN team of two arrived in Baghdad to see whether it is safe for a larger team to come to Iraq to study the possibility of holding a full election.