Car bomb kills at least nine in Baghdad; Sunni cleric killed in Basra

Published: Friday, May 26 2006 3:07 p.m. MDT

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."

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