Two blasts rock Iraq ministry

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The Independent Online

Two blasts struck outside Iraq's Foreign Ministry today as visiting US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte prepared to hold a press conference in the Green Zone compound nearby, Reuters reporters at the scene said.

Police said two mortars had struck in the area, wounding five civilians. One reporter said vehicles were ablaze. Another said two columns of smoke were visible.

The Foreign Ministry building is adjacent to the fortified Green Zone government and diplomatic compound, where journalists were assembled for a news conference by Negroponte and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

Militants have fired rockets or mortars at the Green Zone during visits by senior US officials in the past. Negroponte, a former US ambassador to Iraq, has been in the country for several days and has held meetings with senior Iraqi officials.

Washington and Baghdad have been in intense negotiations on a new agreement to allow US forces to remain in the country after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year. Both sides say the deal is close.