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Bomb kills at least 5 in Iraqi capital

Four Americans are among the dead. In Nineveh, a roadside blast takes the lives of three U.S. soldiers.

June 25, 2008|Alexandra Zavis | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Two American soldiers and three U.S. government employees were killed Tuesday when a bomb exploded in a local council building in a Shiite Muslim district of the capital, officials said.

A roadside bombing killed three more American soldiers and an interpreter late Tuesday in Nineveh province, the military announced today. No details were given.

The attack in Sadr City, the second aimed at a political meeting in two days, struck a blow at U.S. efforts to promote good governance, improve services and court allies after weeks of fighting in the Baghdad bastion of anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr.

The U.S. military blamed breakaway factions of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, groups it alleges are supported by Iran. Tehran has denied the charge.

The explosion occurred hours before a vote to replace Abdul Hassan Jbara as chairman of the Sadr City District Advisory Council.

Jbara, who is accused by colleagues of having ties to militias, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The bomb was planted outside the office of his deputy and would-be successor, Hassan Shamma, said Iraqi police and council members who were there. It detonated as U.S. soldiers and civilian advisors entered the room, they said.

Two of the civilians killed were Americans, said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo. They included Steven Farley, a State Department employee from Guthrie, Okla., and a Department of Defense employee whose identity was not disclosed. An Italian interpreter of Iraqi descent also was killed, according to the Italian Foreign Ministry.

Iraqi security officials said at least one Iraqi civilian died and four were injured in the blast. The U.S. military said that it was not aware of any Iraqis killed, but that at least one U.S. soldier and two Iraqi council members were wounded.

Shamma suffered a leg injury, said Sadr City Mayor Hassan Karim, who was visiting his colleagues in the hospital when he spoke to The Times.

Ahmed Hassan, the council spokesman, was walking toward Shamma's office when the explosion blew him across the hallway.

"The blast was massive," he said. "There was smoke everywhere and shards of glass."

A council member who had rushed to help said, "I saw the Americans come out with two stretchers with their colleagues' bloodied and mangled bodies." He requested anonymity for security reasons.

The bombing followed an attack the day before that targeted Americans as they met with local officials in a town near the capital. Such encounters are a key part of U.S. efforts to undermine support for militants by rebuilding institutions and kick-starting local economies as violence levels drop across Iraq.

On Monday, a gunman ambushed U.S. soldiers as they left the municipal building in Madaen, killing two of them and injuring three others in the town about 15 miles southeast of the capital. A local interpreter also was injured.

Madaen has long been a hot spot for Sunni and Shiite Muslim extremist violence, and Iraqi officials said the gunman was believed to be a current or former council member.

U.S. officials said they would not be deterred by the attacks.

"We remain committed as ever to helping Iraqis achieve the peace, stability and prosperity that will make such acts of terror a thing of the past," Ambassador Ryan Crocker said in a statement.

Lt. Col. Steven Stover, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Baghdad, said the two attacks did not appear to be linked.

He said U.S. troops had a "good working relationship" with the council member whose office was targeted Tuesday.

U.S. soldiers caught a suspect who attempted to flee on a motorcycle and detained two others, all of whom tested positive for explosives residue, Stover said.

Brett Farley, a son of the State Department employee, blamed Sadr's militia for the bombing. He said his father had told him that the council had asked the chairman to resign last week because he "was an insurgent under the thumb of Muqtada Sadr."

"This is their retaliation," Farley said by telephone at his grandmother's home in Crescent, Okla.

He said his father, a Navy veteran, was deeply committed to helping the impoverished district break away from the control of Sadr's militiamen.

"He had told us on a number of occasions that he believed so deeply in this that he was willing to die for it," Farley said.

Hundreds of people, many of them civilians, have died in the fighting that pitted U.S. and Iraqi forces against Sadr's militiamen this year.

In other violence, a suicide car bomber attacked a police station in the northern city of Mosul, killing at least two people and injuring scores of others, police said.

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

Times staff writers Saif Hameed, Raheem Salman and special correspondents in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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