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9 killed in suicide bombing targeting Iraq labor minister

The official survives the attack in Baghdad. It occurs on a day U.S. forces give up control of Babil province.

October 24, 2008|the associated press

BAGHDAD — Iraq's labor minister escaped assassination Thursday when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden SUV into his convoy, killing at least nine people.

The blast came on a day when the U.S. relinquished control of a province that includes much of the area south of Baghdad once known as the "triangle of death." Babil is the 12th of 18 provinces to be returned to Iraqi control. Americans will stay in the area to help the Iraqis when needed.

The bomber drove his Toyota Land Cruiser into the convoy carrying Labor and Social Affairs Minister Mahmoud Mohammed Radhi as it passed near Tahrir Square in the busy Bab al Sharji market area -- not far from the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

"It is the latest in a series of criminal acts that are targeting the development process in Iraq," ministry spokesman Abdullah Lami told Al Arabiya television.

An Iraqi police official later said Radhi's nephew was among the dead.

The district has seen several bombings in past years, including one on March 13 that killed 18 people. But authorities have reinforced security with several checkpoints and concrete walls, and the area had been relatively peaceful for months.

It had been frequently targeted because it was a transit route for convoys to and from the Green Zone, said Hadi Hassan, who was inside his camera store Thursday when the bomber struck nearby.

The Iraqi military said nine people were killed and 26 wounded in the blast.

But police and hospital officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information, put the death toll at 14.

It is difficult to determine casualty tolls from bombings in Iraq because the aftermath is usually chaotic and many people rush victims away from the site.

The Babil transfer ceremony was held near the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon.

Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said security gains in the area have been remarkable, with the number of attacks falling about 80% since last year. But he cautioned that "while the enemies of Iraq are down, they are not necessarily defeated."

Army Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, who commands U.S. forces in the area, said the remaining southern province under American control -- Wasit -- would be transferred to Iraqi authorities Wednesday.

Other provinces that have yet to be handed over are north of the capital, where violence has been slower to decline.

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