Twelve Iraqis killed as car bomber targets American base in Baghdad

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A suicide car bomber trying to attack an American base killed 12 Iraqis yesterday and an assassin shot dead a senior education ministry official.

A suicide car bomber trying to attack an American base killed 12 Iraqis yesterday and an assassin shot dead a senior education ministry official.

The suicide attack, the 15th so far this month, was aimed at the US army's Camp Cuervo in Baghdad, but was intercepted by Iraqi police. They had seen a car veer off the main highway at 9.15 am and drive the wrong way down the road. When two patrol cars tried to stop the vehicle it blew up, killing four policemen and eight civilians.

The aim of the suicide bombing campaign is evidently to keep the political temperature high in the run up to the so-called transfer of power from the US to the interim Iraqi government on 30 June. There appears to be no shortage of people willing to volunteer for suicide attacks. The blue-shirted police number 92,000 and are the most common targets of attack by suicide bombers.

A blackened engine was all that was left of the bomber's car yesterday, while scraps of twisted metal and broken glass littered the road. Nearby was a burnt-out police car with two charred bodies still smouldering in the wreckage, a wrecked van and three civilian cars that had been caught by the blast.

"One car was blown across the street," said Abdel Hasan al-Jabber, an off-duty civil defence worker. "The man inside had blood pouring from the top of his head."

Early yesterday, the sound of an explosion in the Green Zone echoed across Baghdad as a mortar round struck near the Republican Palace, now the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority. It broke windows and slightly wounded several people. A second round did not explode and had to be blown up by sappers.

Assassinations of government officials have escalated sharply this month, some of the targets being unguarded, elderly and easy to kill. The latest to die was Kamal al-Jarah, 63, an education ministry official in charge of contacts with foreign countries and the UN. Mr Jarah stepped into the garden of his house on his way to work yesterday morning where a gunman was waiting. Mr Jarah lived in the largely Sunni Muslim district of Ghazaliya, in west Baghdad, where opposition to the US-led occupation is particularly strong.

The dead man was the second senior civil servant to be killed over the weekend. On Saturday, the most senior career diplomat in the Iraqi foreign ministry, Bassam Salih Kubba, was mortally wounded when gunmen fired into his car as he was being driven through the strongly Shiah Adhamiya district of the capital. His driver, who was also wounded, took him straight to hospital but doctors were unable to save his life.

The assassins have demonstrated that they have accurate intelligence about the movements of their victims, although Mr Kubba and Mr Jarah could not have been softer targets. Their deaths are clearly intended to send the message that anybody who associates with the interim government will be in danger.

Assassins were also at work in other parts of Iraq. A senior local police official, Brigadier Majeed Almani Mahal in Baquba, a town 40 miles north-east of Baghdad, was shot and wounded on Saturday. In the capital Major-General Hussein Mustafa Abdul-Kareem, the head of the 17,000-strong border guards, was wounded in an ambush. In Kirkuk, a prominent Kurdish cleric, Iyad Korshid, was killed as he walked to visit neighbours.

Spokesmen for the occupation authority and the US Army in Baghdad have said that, in terms of security, little will change on 30 June. The 138,000 American troops will stay in place.

Iraqi police and paramilitary forces, although numerous, have in the past shown themselves averse to confrontation with the resistance. During the April uprisings, many of them went home or changed sides.

Some Iraqis do, however, have exaggerated expectations about what will happen at the end of the month, including a belief that US troops will pull out of the cities. This was firmly denied by Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the US military spokesman, who said: "I don't think you're going to see much difference on July 15 than you saw on January 15. We will not be pulling out of the cities. We will not be relocating. We would certainly like to see more and more Iraqi security forces at the lead."

In addition to the political violence, Iraqis and foreigners in Baghdad are fearful of kidnappings, many of which are carried out for commercial reasons. This has already led to an exodus of doctors and businessmen to Jordan and other parts of the Arab world. Some of those abducted said later that the efficiency and discipline of the kidnappers led them to suspect that they belonged to the old Iraqi Mukhabarat (intelligence service), which was disbanded last year.

The body of a murdered Lebanese construction worker, Hussein Ali Alyan, has been found near Fallujah. Hassan Hijazi, a Lebanese diplomat in Baghdad, said that gunmen wearing Iraqi police uniforms were kidnapping foreigners and holding them for ransom.

In recent months, however, crimes committed by men in police uniforms, such as the murder of two Americans at a police checkpoint south of Baghdad, have turned out to be have been committed by real policemen.