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2 Americans among 22 killed in Baghdad

Two suicide car bombs exploded in a central Baghdad square Saturday, killing 22 people, including two Americans, the U.S. Embassy said.
/ Source: news services

Two suicide car bombers plowed into a foreign security company convoy in the heart of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 22 people -- including two Americans -- in an attack that left a busy traffic circle strewn with burning vehicles, mutilated bodies and bloodied school children.

On Sunday, gunmen assassinated a senior transport ministry official in Baghdad, police said.

Zobaa Yassin was shot dead in his car along with his driver, police said. Yassin was one of the leading civil servants in the ministry.

Nearly 300 people have been killed in insurgent violence since Iraq's democratically elected government was sworn in 10 days ago.

Cabinet nearly complete
After months of delays, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and parliament filled six vacancies in the Cabinet of Iraq’s new government on Sunday, including four politicians from the country’s disaffected Sunni minority.

In a vote in parliament, 112 of the 155 legislators present approved al-Jaafari’s nominations, including that of Saadoun al-Duleimi as defense minister. The former army lieutenant colonel left Iraq in 1984 and lived in exile in Saudi Arabia until the fall of Saddam in April 2003. He is reputed to be a moderate, but with family ties to the restive Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni-driven insurgency.

Suicide car bombs strike Tahrir Square
The U.S. military said Saturday's suicide attackers crashed their explosives-packed cars into a three-vehicle convoy in Tahrir Square, known for its shops and a large statue of Iraqi soldiers breaking through chains to freedom.

At least 22 people were killed, including the two Americans, who were employees of the company that owned the targeted SUVs, the U.S. Embassy said without identifying the company. Three other American civilians were injured in the attack, the embassy said. It was investigating whether other foreign nationals were injured.

Hospital officials said at least 36 Iraqis were wounded in the blasts, which damaged shops and a school, set fire to cars and left several mutilated bodies lying in the streets.

Rescue workers lifted injured school girls onto stretchers, including one with bandages wrapped around her neck and blood streaming down her legs. Firefighters fought the blaze, which sent thick black smoke billowing into the sky.

Iman Norman rushed to al-Kindi Hospital to be with her 12-year-old daughter, Lana, one of several school girls who were injured in a minibus. Iman said the students climbed out of the bus' windows in their bloodied uniforms after the bomb damaged its doors. Lana's injury wasn't serious, but one student lost an eye, Norman said.

Elsewhere, A U.S. Marine was killed by a bomb in Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad, the military said in a statement. As of Friday, at least 1,592 members of the U.S. military had died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have hit back at insurgents with a series of major raids across the country in recent months.

An April 26 raid netted a suspect described by the U.S. military as a key associate of Iraq's most wanted militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Ghassan Muhammad Amin Husayn al-Rawi had helped al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group arrange meetings and move foreign insurgents into the country, the U.S. command said in a statement.

On Friday night, Iraqi soldiers fought suspected insurgents in Tal Afar, 93 miles east of the Syrian border, said Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Mohammed Abdul Qadir. He provided no details, but said 25 militants were killed in the clashes. Witnesses claimed Iraqi soldiers also suffered casualties, but Qadir could not confirm that.

Al-Zarqawi aide arrested
Meantime, a government statement said Iraqi forces arrested Ghassan al-Rawi, identified as the militant leader of the western town of Rawa, in late April.

It identified Rawi as a Zarqawi lieutenant in the western town who facilitated meetings for senior officials in Zarqawi’s group. It said two of his assistants were also seized.

Iraqi and U.S. officials say they are closing in on Zarqawi, whose group has claimed some of the deadliest bombings in Iraq.

The U.S. military says it almost caught Zarqawi in February after pursuing a car in which he was travelling in western Iraq. Zarqawi fled the vehicle and escaped but his laptop was seized.

The Iraqi government statement said Rawi confessed to meeting Zarqawi once in January and facilitated his stay with an associate for five days.

The government said Rawi had kidnapped civilians and demanded ransoms and that security forces found weapons and cars being prepared for bombings when they detained him.

Surge in violence
Violence has surged in Iraq since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his new government on April 28.

  • At least four more bodies were dug up on the outskirts of Baghdad Saturday, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene. A dozen bodies were recovered from a dump on Friday, some of them blindfolded and shot in the head, police said. Families have identified some of the victims as farmers who disappeared recently on their way to a market to sell their produce, a morgue official said.

  • Two bodies were found dumped on a sidewalk Saturday in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. An AP photograph showed the victims with their hands tied behind their backs and their throats apparently slit.

  • Two suicide car bombs killed at least 24 Iraqis on Friday. One bomb exploded at a market in Suwayrah, killing at least 16 people and wounding 47, police said. The other bomb destroyed a police minibus at a checkpoint in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, killing at least eight policemen and wounding seven people, officials said.

  • On Friday, scavengers sifting through garbage stumbled across at least 12 bodies at a dump in Kasra Waatash, on the northeastern edge of Baghdad, police and soldiers said. 
  • Two insurgents shot at American soldiers on patrol in south Baghdad early Friday, and one militant was killed in the return fire, the U.S. military said. Another insurgent was detained, the statement said.
  • Militants holding an Australian engineer hostage issued a 72-hour ultimatum for Australia to start pulling troops out of Iraq, Arab television station al-Jazeera reported Friday.