Iraqi Justice Minister Targeted By Car Bomb

(BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 17th, 2004, 8:50 a.m.) -- A car bomb struck the Iraqi justice minister's convoy as it passed through western Baghdad on Saturday, killing four of his bodyguards. The minister was unhurt in the blast, one of several bloody attacks across Iraq and the latest attempt on the life of a top government official.

The blast hit the tail end of Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan's convoy at an intersection 500 yards from his home. About the same time, a car bomb exploded outside an Iraqi National Guard headquarters in Mahmudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad. Two people were killed and 47 were wounded, hospital officials said.

Loae Hassan, one of al-Hassan's bodyguards, said several members of the justice minister's security detail were killed in the convoy blast, which destroyed three vehicles. The Health Ministry put the number at four -- among them the minister's nephew.

"A car was parking on the opposite direction of the road, when the driver, God curse him, saw us and exploded himself," said Hassan.

"My understanding is that the minister is fine," said Col. Michael Formica, commander of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade.

Insurgents have targeted officials in the interim Iraqi government for assassination because of their decision to work with American forces. Guerillas see the Iraqi officials as collaborators.

The blast that struck the minister's convoy carved a crater yards in diameter and two feet deep into the pavement. Flames lapped the charred shell of one car stopped alongside a pylon supporting a bridge.

Emergency personnel struggled to load a limp body into the back of an ambulance and then sped off, bouncing up on a curb to avoid a police vehicle parked in the middle of the road. A helicopter hovered overhead.

Earlier this week, militants killed the governor of Nineveh province and a senior official in the Industry Ministry. Guerillas also attacked a convoy of Foreign Ministry officials, killing one and wounding two others.

In the other car bombing Saturday, prospective recruits were waiting to get into the headquarters, said Dr. Dawoud Jassim Taie, director of the Mahmudiyah Hospital. Six of the wounded were National Guard troops while the rest were prospective recruits, he said.

National Guard troops became suspicious of a parked car near a checkpoint and opened fire, said one officer, who declined to be named. The bomb went off about 30 feet from the checkpoint.

Shortly afterward, insurgents lobbed a hand grenade at a police patrol in the same neighborhood, badly wounding two police officers, said police Maj. Hashim Raed. Also Saturday, a roadside bomb detonated near a police vehicle in the western Baghdad district of Hay al-Jameia, wounding four officers, police Lt. Alaa Adnan said.

It was possible the attacks were tied to the date: Saturday marked the 36th anniversary of the coup that brought the Baath party to power in Iraq.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein took part in the bloodless military revolt and became the second most powerful man in the government. Eleven years later, he took full power.

There were huge celebrations marking the day during Saddam's reign, but those were cancelled after he was swept from power last year in the American-led invasion.

Also Saturday, a saboteur attempting to plant a bomb under a natural gas pipeline set off the explosion early and killed himself, authorities said.

The explosion in Riayd, about 30 miles southwest of Baghdad, did not damage the line, said Col. Sarhat Qader of the Iraqi police in Kirkuk.

"He was blown to pieces while trying to place it into the hole in the ground," Qader said.

Insurgents frequently target Iraq's oil infrastructure and repeated bombings on pipelines have disrupted exports, robbing Iraq of hundreds of millions of dollars in much-needed reconstruction funds.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has warned that terrorists would step up their attacks on the interim government and security officials. He also announced the formation of a new security agency to combat terrorism and vowed to annihilate guerrillas seeking to derail efforts to bring peace here.

Insurgents have also kidnapped dozens of foreigners in hopes of pressuring countries taking part in the U.S.-led coalition to withdraw. The strategy also appears intended to further isolate the United States, which already provides the bulk of the 160,000-member multinational force in Iraq.

The Philippines withdrew 11 more soldiers from Iraq on Friday to meet the demands of kidnappers holding a truck driver hostage, ignoring warnings from the United States that the move sends the wrong signal to terrorists.

The decision by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to pull out peacekeepers outraged U.S. allies in the war on terror, who fear that bargaining for the life of Angelo dela Cruz will set a dangerous precedent.

The 51-member Filipino contingent had been scaled back to 43 in recent days. A further 11 Filipinos -- the head of the humanitarian mission and 10 other soldiers -- drove over the border into Kuwait on Friday in three vehicles and were seen off by a delegation of U.S. troops, said Lt. Col. Hashem Abdullah, an Iraqi officer at the border town of Safwan.

Despite the ferocity and number of attacks in recent days, most coalition countries said this week they are standing firm.

El Salvador's legislature approved an extension late Thursday of its 380 troops in Iraq. Italy, whose contingent of 3,000 troops is the third-largest in Iraq, has no plans to pull out. Neither does Poland, with 2,500 soldiers; Romania, with 730 infantry and military police; Denmark, with 500 troops; Hungary, with 300; nor the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with about 100 each.

Bulgaria, which has 480 troops in Iraq, was working desperately to win the freedom of a captive Bulgarian truck driver after another driver reportedly was killed this week. It reiterated its determination Friday to remain in Iraq, despite calls by lawmakers and other groups to pull out.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)