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Violence peaks as Iraqi election approaches

Iraqis gather at the site where a suicid
Iraqis gather where a suicide car bomb exploded in Baghdad on Wednesday. Six people were wounded in the attack, which targeted Saad Naif al-Hardan, the Sunni minister for state for provinces.Ali Al-saadi / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

A suicide bomber killed 30 Iraqis at an army recruiting center and lawmakers reached a last-minute compromise with Sunnis on the draft constitution Wednesday.

The lawmakers were summoned after Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish powerbrokers reached the breakthrough on the charter. The session, attended by 157 of the body’s 275 members, ended without a vote on the measure. Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani said a vote was not necessary and that the amendments were approved.

The suicide attacker set off explosives hidden beneath his clothing at the first of two checkpoints outside the recruiting center in Tal Afar, where men were gathering to apply for jobs, said army Capt. Raad Ahmed and town police chief Brig. Najim Abdullah. They said at least 30 people were killed and 35 wounded.

The small town was struck Tuesday by another suicide bomber who killed 30 civilians and wounded 45 when he plowed his explosives-packed vehicle into a crowded outdoor market. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for that attack.

In August, U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a major offensive in Tal Afar, 93 miles east of the Syrian border, claiming to have killed 200 insurgents and driven many others out.

In other incidents Wednesday:

  • Three suicide car bombs, two roadside blasts and two drive-by shootings killed three Iraqis and wounded 28 in Baghdad and the northwestern city of Baqouba, police said.
  • Two U.S. soldiers were killed and one was injured when their vehicle rolled over while on patrol during combat near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. The deaths brought to 1,962 the number of U.S. service members killed since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
  • An explosion set by insurgents also shut down an oil pipeline from the northern city of Kirkuk to refineries in Beiji, an official said. The pipeline is open only intermittently because of incessant sabotage.
  • In Baghdad, Saad Naif al-Hardan, Iraq’s minister of provincial affairs, escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a convoy of cars preparing to pick him up at his office was hit by a suicide car bomb that wounded five bodyguards and five bystanders, police said.
  • The bodies of eight Iraqis who apparently had been kidnapped were found Wednesday in Baghdad and Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of the capital, police said.

431 deaths in 17 days
Those and other attacks raised the death toll in the last 17 days to 431 in the militants’ campaign to thwart Saturday’s constitutional referendum, even as President Jalal Talabani and other politicians praised the last-minute breakthrough as “historic” and urged the charter’s approval.

“There is no excuse for Arab Sunnis to boycott the vote now that we have responded to all their demands and suggestions,” Talabani said at a nationally televised news conference.

He was followed by other politicians who also hailed the development, including National Assembly Speaker Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni; Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni; former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite; and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite who heads the Iraqi United Alliance, the largest coalition in parliament.

The White House welcomed the compromise as a positive step but cautioned that it would likely do little to quell insurgent violence.

“We have always emphasized the importance of encouraging as broad a participation in the political process as possible. We believe the political process should be inclusive,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

But McClellan added that the Bush administration expected to see “continued violence because the terrorists understand how high the stakes are in Iraq.”

For security reasons, a four-day national curfew begins Thursday, with a holiday on Saturday.