Two British soldiers killed in Iraq bomb blast

Two British soldiers were killed in Amarah, 180 miles south-east of Baghdad, the Ministry of Defence reported, but gave no other details.

A witness said a car bomb targeted a British patrol and helicopters were seen taking away casualties.

In Baghdad, four explosions – two car bombs, a suicide attacker wearing an explosives belt and a blast near the National Theatre – rocked the Iraqi capital today, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens, police said.

In the Baghdad attacks, a car bomb detonated near a small market and the Shiite Timimi mosque in the Karada neighbourhood, killing four people and injuring 16, said Interior Ministry official Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi.

Another car bomb targeting a police patrol in east Baghdad killed eight people and injured 10 – all civilians, said police Col. Ahmed Aboud. A man wearing an explosives belt blew himself up at a fuel station in the same neighbourhood, killing three people and wounding four, said police Capt. Haidir Ibrahim.

The fourth blast, believed to have been a mortar round, landed in an open area not far from the National Theatre, Mohammedawi said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Wailing relatives, meanwhile, collected the bodies of their loved ones killed in Iraq’s spasm of sectarian violence, nine more bullet-riddled bodies were found outside the capital, and the burial place of Saddam Hussein’s father – a Sunni mosque – was badly damaged in a bomb attack.

The US military reported a US soldier was killed by small-arms fire west of Baghdad yesterday.

Details about the explosions in Baghdad were sketchy, but the violence renewed fears that revenge killings were continuing after the bomb attack last Wednesday that destroyed the golden dome atop an important Shiite shrine in the predominantly Sunni city of Samarra, north of Baghdad.

While Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador in Iraq, said “the crisis is over,” violence and killings continued even as Iraqi authorities tried to tally the death toll from around the country over the past week.

So far, officials at the Baghdad central morgue said 249 bodies were taken to the facility since Wednesday.

The Interior Ministry had only confirmed 216 deaths since Wednesday, but it relies on death certificates from around the country and the process can be slow. The Washington Post reported today that more than 1,300 Iraqis had been killed since the shrine attack, which raised the spectre of Sunni-Shiite civil war.

“I think the country came to the brink of a civil war, but the Iraqis decided that they didn’t want to go down that path, and came together,” the Khalilzad told CNN on Monday. “Clearly the terrorists who plotted that attack wanted to provoke a civil war. It looked quite dangerous in the initial 48 hours, but I believe that the Iraqis decided to come together.”

At the Baghdad morgue today more than 60 relatives of the dead – many of them women dressed in black and beating their breasts as they wailed in grief - assembled along with 30 empty coffins to take away their dead family members.

The American military said a US soldier of the Multinational Division-Baghdad was killed by small arms fire yesterday west of Baghdad. It gave no other details. The death brought to at least 2,292 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.

Apparent execution-style killings continued with the discovery today of nine more bullet-riddled bodies, including a Sunni Muslim tribal sheikh off a road south-east of Baghdad, police and hospital officials said.

The Iraqi army found the bodies near two burned minibuses in an open area off the road from Baghdad into Iraq’s strife-prone Diyala province, Diyala police said. The victims included Sheikh Hamid Irbat Ghazi, of the influential Mahamdeh tribe, and two of his nephews, police said.

In Tikrit, near Saddam’s birthplace north of Baghdad, the bomb blast at the Hussein al-Majid mosque, a Sunni place of worship that houses his father’s grave, damaged a dome and blew out doors and windows, police Capt. Qais Abdul-Majid said.

Saddam was due in court today with seven co-defendants for the killing of nearly 150 people from the town of Dujail, also north of Baghdad, after a 1982 assassination attempt there against the former Iraqi strongman.

In Baghdad, gunmen in two speeding cars opened fire on the Sunni al-Salam mosque in the western Mansour district, killing the guard, said police Lt.Maitham Abdul-Razaq.

Gunmen in Mosul, 225 miles north-west of Baghdad, killed four police and a doctor, Dr. Bahaa al-Bakri of the city general hospital said. Three gunmen broke into the clinic of Dr.Yousif Ibrahim, 55, and shot him dead. The motive was not known.

Also last night masked gunmen in two speeding cars sprayed four policemen with automatic rifles as they stood beside a road in a southern neighbourhood.

Before the grisly reports began coming in today, Iraqi officials reported 36 people killed on Sunday in violence that included a fierce gun battle between Iraqi commandos and insurgents south-east of the capital.

Sunni Arab leaders, meanwhile, said they were prepared to end their boycott of the talks on a new government if Shiites return mosques seized in reprisal attacks against Sunnis and meet other unspecified demands.

The Shiite-Sunni violence threatened US plans of a broad-based government capable of luring Sunni Arabs away from the deadly insurgency so coalition troops can begin heading home.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, whose Iraqi Accordance Front spearheaded the Sunni walkout from the talks, said the Sunnis are “intent on participating” in a new government but are holding out for “some conditions” to be met.

The US State Department praised the Sunni leadership as “looking to get back into the game, full strength” and brushed aside the additional demands.

“The conditions are less important than the fact that there are good-faith discussions going on about resuming full-bore talks on a national unity government,” said deputy spokesman Adam Ereli in Washington.

Also, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said they believed American journalist Jill Carroll remained alive. The Sunday deadline set by her captors passed with no word of her fate. A senior ministry official refused to say why they don’t believe Carroll’s captors carried out their threat to kill the 28-year-old freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor.

Interior Ministry Wolf Brigade anti-terrorism troops reported capturing Abou al-Farouq, a key aide to al-Qaida in Iraq chieftain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, during a sweep west of the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi. Al-Farouq, a Syrian, was said to be financing the organisation and co-ordinating insurgent attacks.

The Defence Ministry said on Monday that Iraqi security forces had killed 35 insurgents and arrested 487 in raids across the country since the bombing last Wednesday of the Samarra shrine.

The body of an official with Iraq’s largest Sunni Muslim political group was delivered to the Health Ministry morgue Monday with signs of torture, his party said. Waad Jassim al-Ani, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was seized from his home Saturday by an unspecified “security agency,” the party said. Sunni leaders accuse Iraq’s Shiite-led Interior Ministry of running death squads that target them – a charge denied by the ministry.

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