BAGHDAD, Iraq A bomb exploded Friday in an outdoor market in a majority Shiite part of east Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 30, police said, while Sunni leaders closed mosques in Basra to protest the slaying of a Sunni cleric.
The violence came as Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki rejected a U.S. offer of direct talks on Iraq during the first high-level visit from Tehran since the new Iraqi government was formed last week.
Mottaki accused the Americans of raising "other issues." He didn't elaborate, but the two sides have been sparring over Iran's disputed nuclear program and Tehran reportedly wants direct talks with Washington on that issue as well.
The bomb, which was planted under a car, exploded at 10 a.m. in the Nahda area as the market that sells old furniture, household goods and appliances was packed with shoppers at the start of the Islamic holiday. Nine people were killed and 30 were wounded in the blast, hospital security official Sgt. Sabah Muhsin said.
A bomb also exploded in a popular outdoor market in the western Baghdad neighborhood of al-Bayaa, wounding 13 civilians, police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said.
Elsewhere in the capital, a roadside bomb missed a U.S. convoy but injured three Iraqis on a minibus in the upscale Mansour district, police officer Maitham Addurraq said.
Another roadside bomb hit a police patrol in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing one policeman and wounding four others, police Brig. Gen. Khatab Omar said.
Sunni leaders ordered the closure of all Sunni mosques in the southern city of Basra and urged preachers not to hold Friday prayers to protest the killing of Sunni imam Wafiq al-Hamdani.
In the latest indication that sectarian violence may be escalating, al-Hamdani was slain when gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on him Friday as he was walking to his Kawaz mosque in Basra, said Khalid al-Mulla, a member in the Association of Muslim Scholars.
Elsewhere, Capt. Khudier Ajil, a security official in Tikrit General Hospital, said U.S. soldiers brought 14 bullet-riddled bodies, including those of two children, to the morgue in Saddam Hussein's former hometown late Thursday. It was unclear who had killed them and the U.S. military said it had no information about it.
The attacks highlighted the difficulties faced by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a day after he said he may soon be ready to name the two men who will be charged with carrying out his pledge to take over security for Iraq within 18 months.
Sheik Abdul Mahdi al-Karblai, a representative of Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Karbala, called on al-Maliki to avoid sectarian and party biases in his choice. He said in his Friday sermon that the defense and interior ministers "should be independent and have no personal interests."
The Iranian foreign minister was supposed to have come to Iraq on May 15 but the visit was delayed. Mottaki's predecessor, Kamal Kharrazi, visited last year and the two sides issued a joint statement blaming Saddam Hussein for the bloody 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged difficult times in the war at their meeting in Washington on Thursday and admitted making costly mistakes, but vowed to keep troops there until the new government takes hold.
"Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing," Bush said at a news conference with Blair. "Not everything has turned out the way we hoped."
Blair said he left a meeting this week with Iraq's new prime minister "thinking the challenge is still immense, but I also came away thinking more certain than ever that we should rise to it."
Bush declined to discuss news reports that the Pentagon hoped that the U.S. force, now at 131,000 troops, could be reduced to about 100,000 by year's end. "We'll keep the force level there necessary to win," he said.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, however, urged the new government to press for a troop withdrawal.
"As far as I know, the Iraqi parliament is the highest authority, so I direct my talk to it," he said during a Friday sermon in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. "The withdrawal of occupation troops from Iraq is a legal demand, so the members of parliament should work to achieve it and President Bush must respond to this demand."
He said that should include the volatile areas surrounding Baghdad and the western Anbar province and he accused Washington of "working to plant the sectarian sedition in Iraq."
Al-Maliki said he could decide by Friday on the two security ministers, who were not named last week along with the rest of his Cabinet because of ethnic and sectarian disagreements. The two would then probably be sworn in Sunday, when parliament reconvenes.
"We have a number of names for the interior and defense ministries," al-Maliki told The Associated Press.
He said problems included the large number of candidates presented by his Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Sunni Arabs' Iraqi Accordance Front.
"The alliance has six names for the Interior Ministry post and the Accordance Front has tens of names," al-Maliki said after meeting Talabani and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq the country's largest Shiite party.
Al-Hakim said the alliance has reservations over some nominees "because they had links with the former regime" of Saddam Hussein.
On Thursday, a roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers when it struck their vehicle in southern Baghdad. Their deaths brought to 2,462 the members of the U.S. military who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an AP count.
The military also said its troops killed three suspected insurgents who were placing roadside bombs near the Abu Ghraib district west of Baghdad.
U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad detained 15 terrorists in three separate events earlier this week south of Baghdad, the military said, including 11 who were captured Wednesday when they fired upon a traffic control point from a mosque.Comment on this story
Also Thursday, gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms kidnapped eight people, including some guards working for a TV station and relatives of others, in the Baqouba area. Three of the hostages were killed and two were released to warn residents to stop working for the TV station. The other three were still missing, said Duraid Hassan, an employee with the state-run Diyala TV station.
In other violence, according to officials:
Four bodies were found Friday in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, including the tortured corpse of a member of the al-Mahdi Shiite militia. A bomb left in a bag in a liquor shop in Sinjar, 125 miles west of Mosul, exploded Thursday, killing the shop's owner and wounding two customers.
Associated Press writers Patrick Quinn, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qais al-Bashir contributed to this story from Baghdad.