Iraqi vice president dodges bomb; 10 die
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iraq’s Shiite vice president escaped an apparent assassination attempt Monday after a bomb exploded in municipal offices where he was making a speech, knocking him down with the force of the blast that left at least 10 people dead.
Adel Abdul-Mahdi was bruised and hospitalized for medical exams, an aide said. Police initially blamed the attack on a bomb-rigged car, but later said the explosives were apparently planted inside the building.
The attack sent another message that suspected Sunni militants could strike anywhere despite a major security crackdown across the capital. Hours before the blast, U.S. military teams with bomb-sniffing dogs combed the building, said workers at the site.
The bomb struck while Abdul-Mahdi was addressing municipal officials in the upscale Mansour district, which has many embassies and saw a rise in private security patrols after past kidnappings blamed on militants.
Abdul-Mahdi is one of two vice presidents. The other, Tariq al-Hashemi, is Sunni.
A public works employee, Tagrid Ali, said he was listening to the speech. “Then I heard a big explosion,” he said. “I fell to the ground and whole place was filled with black smoke.”
Iraqi and U.S. soldiers cordoned off the area and bomb-detection teams combed the building. An Associated Press photographer saw a man being led from the building by security forces, but there was no official word on arrests.
“The aggression against you this day is further proof that these groups are doing their best to destroy Iraq’s unity,” said a message to the vice president from Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who heads Iraq’s largest Shiite political group.
At least 10 people were killed and 18 injured in the blast, police said. An earlier explosion elsewhere in Baghdad killed at least three policemen.
Separately, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was in stable condition in a hospital in Amman, Jordan, on Monday, recuperating from exhaustion and lung inflammation, Iraqi officials said.
Talabani, 73, fell ill Sunday and was unconscious when he was rushed to a hospital in Sulaimaniyah, his hometown in northeastern Iraq. He was then flown to neighboring Jordan for extensive examination.
“He lost fluids, but his heart is very well and there’s no need for him to be flown anywhere, whether the United States or elsewhere, for further treatment,” Saad al-Hayyani, the Iraqi ambassador to Jordan, told The Associated Press after he visited Talabani at the King Hussein Medical City.
On Sunday, the leader of a powerful Shiite militia, the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, complained that the U.S.-Iraqi security sweeps around Baghdad have done nothing to stem the bombings that mostly target Shiite civilians.
The statement – read in Baghdad by an aide to al-Sadr – nearly coincided with a suicide bombing that killed at least 42 people at a mostly Shiite business college. Al-Sadr’s sharply worded comments could signal serious strains ahead for the security effort.
Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia pulled its fighters off the streets under government pressure to let the 13-day-old security plan proceed, but a relentless wave of Sunni attacks has apparently tested al-Sadr’s patience.
A return to the streets by the Mahdi Army forces could effectively end the security effort and raise the chances of Baghdad falling into sectarian street battles – the apparent aim of Sunni extremists seeking any way to destroy the U.S.-backed government.
Al-Hashemi, the Sunni vice president, told the AP that the security plan does not treat all groups equally – an apparent reference to Sunni complaints that they are facing the most pressure and attention.
“Up to now, legal procedures have not been observed,” he said. “The human rights of Iraqis have not been respected as they should be.”
In Diyala, the province northeast of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces seized a weapons cache that includes parts for sophisticated roadside bombs that are believed to originate in Iran.
Military officials told the AP that the arsenal discovered Saturday is one of the biggest found north of the Iraqi capital and contains components for so-called EFPs – explosively formed projectiles that fire a slug of molten metal capable of penetrating armored vehicles.
The U.S. military has said elite Iranian corps are funneling EFPs to Shiite militias in Iraq for use against American troops. The area where the cache was found is dominated by Sunni insurgents, but also includes pockets of Shiites.
Along with the EFPs, the weapons cache contained more than two dozen mortars and 15 rockets. There were enough metal disks to make 130 EFPs, the military said.
Capt. Clayton Combs, the commander of the company that found the cache, said they had found one or two EFPs previously, but this was the first discovery of an assembly facility for them.
“This is a significant amount,” he said during a news conference in Baghdad. “Before we have found one or two EFPs at the most and those are usually at the site of deployment. This is the first cache … that has actually been found as far as a production facility.”
Last week, U.S. troops found a suspected Shiite weapons hideout in the southern city of Hillah that also included parts to make the lethal roadside bombs. The New York Times reported that the stash included a bomb-rigged fake boulder made of polyurethane that was apparently ready to be placed for an attack and a U.S. explosives expert said the device – like others found in the raid – has been used by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Iran is believed to be a major supporter of Hezbollah.
A statement from the U.S. military Monday said that 63 weapons caches have been discovered during major U.S.-Iraqi security sweeps around Baghdad that began Feb. 14. The arsenals included anti-aircraft weapons, armor-piercing bullets, bomb components and mortar rounds, the statement said.
In Baghdad, Iraq’s Appeals Council agreed to review the case of Saddam Hussein’s deputy, Taha Yassin Ramadan, who was sentenced to death by hanging Feb. 12 for his role in the massacre of Shiite civilians in 1982 following an assassination attempt against the former Iraqi leader.