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Baghdad Car Bomb Barrage Continues

Suicide car bombers struck twice Monday in Baghdad, killing 14 other people and injuring nearly 30. Elsewhere, Sunni Arab members of a committee writing Iraq's new constitution ended their boycott of the process.

The first blast occurred shortly after sunrise at a security checkpoint near the Sadeer Hotel in central Baghdad, officials said. The Iraqi Defense Ministry said 12 people, not including the bomber, were killed and 18 were injured, including security guards and civilians.

About three hours later, a second suicide bomber targeted a former Saddam Hussein palace being used by the Ministry of Interior police command. Two commandoes were killed and 10 people were injured, police said.

Maj. Gen. Adnan Thabit told Al-Jazeera television that commandoes opened fire on the vehicle detonating it about 50 yards from the palace.

In other developments:

  • An American soldier charged with murder in the death of an Iraqi police officer pleaded guilty at his court-martial Monday to a lesser charge of negligent homicide. Cpl. Dustin Berg, 22, who is a member of the Indiana National Guard, testified that he did not properly assess the threat that he faced and acted rashly. "I shouldn't have automatically considered him a threat," Berg said. "I misread the situation." Berg changed his story several times during the investigation, initially saying the Iraqi had pointed an AK-47 at him to prevent Berg from reporting insurgent activity. On Monday, however, Berg said that Iraqi police officers as a matter of habit carried their guns with the barrels pointed slightly upward.
  • The death toll from a suicide truck bomb detonated Sunday outside a Baghdad police station was nearly doubled Monday to 39 after many of the victims burned in the bombing died overnight, police and hospital officials said. The attack on the Rashad police station in the eastern neighborhood of Mashtal came during a blinding sandstorm. Security barricades prevented the bomber from reaching the station, but the huge blast destroyed two dozen cars and damaged nearby shops. Police officials said initially that at least 22 people — most of them civilians — were killed and about 30 were injured.
  • Australian Prime Minister John Howard arrived Monday for a surprise visit and talks with the new U.S.-backed government, the Iraqi government's press office said. Howard was meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the government press office said. He is also expected to meet with some of the 750 Australian troops in Iraq.
  • Two people have been detained in connection with the kidnapping of two Algerian diplomats last week, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said Monday. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, a ministry security adviser, did not say who the suspects were nor when they were picked up in last week's abduction of Algeria's top envoy to Iraq, charge d'affaires Ali Belaroussi, 62, and another Algerian diplomat, Azzedine Belkadi, 47.
  • Separate weekend attacks killed a U.S. soldier and a Marine, the U.S. military said. The Marine was killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded near the desert town of Rutbah, 220 miles west of Baghdad. On Sunday, one U.S. soldier was killed and two were wounded in a mortar attack near Balad north of Baghdad. The names of the dead troops were not released.

  • The Sadeer Hotel attack shook the heart of the capital and sent a huge plume of black smoke rising over the 14th of Ramadan Mosque along the traffic circle where the statue of Saddam was hauled down by Iraqis and U.S. Marines on April 9, 2003.

    The injured include people in nearby shops and cafes which were damaged by the blast.

    Alaa Issa, who works as a guard at the Sadeer, said from his hospital bed that "I don't remember anything but waking up in the hospital."

    Mohammed Badr, who works at a nearby restaurant, said he first felt the concussion wave from the blast, "then I heard the explosion."

    "Part of the ceiling fell on me," he said at the hospital.

    In March, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq purportedly posted a video on a Web site showing the huge explosion at the Sadeer Hotel, killing four and wounding 40 others, including 30 American contractors.

    Al-Zarqawi's group described the Sadeer as the "hotel of the Jew."

    Six of 12 Sunnis joined the committee meeting that began behind closed doors Monday morning, said Baqir Hammoudi, secretary to Humam Hammoudi, the head of the committee.

    Sunni member Ali al-Mishhedani said the others were absent because they lived too far from Baghdad or had other personal commitments. He said the others were expected in Baghdad later in the day.

    Saleh al-Mutlaq, another Sunni member, said the Sunnis would meet Tuesday to review the charter's preliminary draft.

    The Sunnis had suspended participation in the committee to protest last Tuesday's assassination of two Sunnis involved in drafting the charter, which must be approved by parliament Aug. 15 and submitted to the voters in an October referendum.

    Sunni Arab participation in the drafting is considered essential in order to win approval for the charter among the country's influential minority, which forms the core of the anti-U.S. insurgency.

    The Sunni decision to return to the committee had been expected. Sunni committee member Saleh al-Mutlaq told The Associated Press he and his colleagues had received verbal assurances that their grievances would be addressed.

    They were to have met with the committee leadership for breakfast Monday to finalize their decision to return.

    Following the Tuesday assassinations of Sunni committee member Mijbil Issa and adviser Dhamim Hussein al-Obeidi, the 12 remaining Sunnis demanded an international investigation into the killings, better security and a greater Sunni role in deliberations.

    It was not clear whether all their demands had been accepted.

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