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Bombs Kill Celebrating Iraqi Soccer Fans

Two suicide car bombings struck soccer fans in Baghdad as they were celebrating Iraq's victory in the Asian Cup semifinal on Wednesday, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 100, officials said.

The victims were among the thousands of revelers who took to the streets of the capital after the country's national soccer team beat South Korea to reach the tournament's final against Saudi Arabia on Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The first attack took place about 6:30 p.m. when a bomber exploded in a crowd of people cheering near a well-known ice cream parlor in Baghdad's western neighborhood of Mansour, according to police and hospital officials. At least 30 people were killed and 75 were wounded, an Interior Ministry official said.

Another suicide car bomber detonated his payload about 45 minutes later in the midst of dozens of vehicles filled with revelers near an Iraqi army checkpoint in the eastern district of Ghadeer, killing at least 20 people, including two soldiers, and wounding 61, according to the ministry official.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.

The second attack occurred as Iraqis of all ages were packed on top of cars, pickups and minibuses, waving Iraqi flags and shirts, while others danced in the streets near the checkpoint. Men put towels over their heads or sprayed cars with water for relief in the hot summer weather.

Thousands of fans also gathered in the central district of Karradah to celebrate, dancing, beating drums and chanting "Iraq, Iraq." Elsewhere in city, traffic snarled as cars, Iraqi flags flying from their windows, moved slowly amid hundreds of fans. Motorists honked their horns.

The successful run in the Asian Cup has been a cause of much joy in this war-torn country, with Iraqis saying the mixed makeup of the team showed the country's rival ethnic and religious factions can unite despite years of sectarian violence.

Preliminary police reports said one person was also killed and 17 wounded by celebratory gunfire.

More than an hour after Iraqi goalkeeper Noor Sabri made the crucial save to win the match, gunfire could still be heard in many parts of the capital.

State television broadcast a warning from the Iraqi military urging residents not to engage in celebratory gunfire. But the warning appeared to have been ignored.

Five people were killed in the celebratory gunfire that followed Iraq's win over Vietnam in a quarterfinal match played in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday. But no other violence was reported in those celebrations.

Iraq and South Korea played to a scoreless draw through 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of extra time in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. But Iraq won a penalty shootout 4-3 to advance to Sunday's final in Jakarta.

In other developments:

  • A leading Democratic Iraq war critic in the House of Representatives said he will soon push legislation that would order U.S. troop withdrawals to begin in two months and predicted Republicans will swing behind it this time. A vote on Rep. John Murtha's proposal likely will come in September, when Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus delivers a long-anticipated assessment on the war.
  • Iran says it's ready to consider higher-level talks with the U.S. on security in Iraq, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday. "The issue of negotiations between Iran and the U.S. about Iraq at the level of deputy foreign ministers is reviewable," the agency quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying after a cabinet meeting in Tehran. Mottaki's statement came a day after a tense meeting between the American and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq in Baghdad.
  • The lawyer for a Marine squad leader charged in the killing of an Iraqi civilian says his client was under pressure from superior officers to find terrorists. Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins of Plymouth, Mass., is charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, assault and other crimes. His military trial began Tuesday. Prosecutors say Hutchins' squad hatched a plot to kidnap and kill a suspected insurgent. But when they couldn't find him, the troops instead kidnapped a neighbor, marched him out of his house, shot him to death and tried to cover it up.
  • A joint U.S.-Iraqi force clashed with suspected Shiite militiamen when they raided several homes in eastern Baghdad early Wednesday morning, police said. Six people were killed and 10 wounded, they added.

  • Meanwhile, Iraq's largest Sunni Arab bloc said Wednesday it had suspended membership in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government, a fresh setback to the Shiite leader's efforts at national reconciliation.

    The Iraqi Accordance Front, which has six Cabinet seats and 44 of 275 in Parliament, gave al-Maliki a week to meet its demands or see its six members officially quit the 14-month-old Cabinet.

    "The Accordance Front announces the suspension of its membership in the government," Sheik Khalaf al-Elyan said at a news conference attended by the two other leaders of the three-party Accordance Front — Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of the Iraqi Islamic Party and Adnan al-Dulaimi of the Congress of the People of Iraq. Al-Elyan leads the National Dialogue Council.

    The Sunni ministers already were boycotting Cabinet meetings but said Wednesday they won't even go to their offices. The Accordance Front cabinet ministers include the deputy prime minister for security as well as the ministers of planning, higher education, culture, defense and the minister of state for women's affairs.

    The threat was the latest in a series of boycotts by minority Sunnis and followers of a radical Shiite cleric, which have left al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government increasingly fragile even as pressure mounts in Washington on him to shepherd through a series of political benchmarks ahead of a key U.S. report to Congress in September.

    Sunni legislators and Sadrists lifted a separate boycott of Parliament last week in an apparent bid to ensure they would retain influence in the debate over power-sharing bills before an August legislative vacation.

    If the Sunni bloc quits, al-Maliki's Cabinet would limp along with about a third of its seats vacant and without its billing as a "national unity" government. But the day-to-day business of the affected ministries was unlikely to be disrupted.

    Al-Sadr's loyalists quit the government in April to protest what they said was its failure to declare a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Those five ministries are being run by top civil servants.

    Al-Maliki had no immediate comment on Wednesday's development, which also threatened to undermine weeks of behind-the-scene negotiations to form a coalition of moderate parties from all sects — dubbed "the alliance of moderates." So far only two Shiite and two Kurdish parties have signed up and they had been urging al-Hashemi's moderate Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni Arab group, and independent Shiites to join them.

    Wednesday's decision by the Accordance Front signaled that al-Hashemi had opted not to abandon his Sunni allies for the sake of joining the new group, which was to exclude al-Hashemi's militant Sunni partners as well as the Shiite Sadrists.

    In remarks during the press conference, however, al-Hashemi left open the possibility of joining the new alliance under an unequivocal pledge of "goodwill" for the Front.

    "There are no encouraging indications so far," al-Hashemi said, adding he had informed President Jalal Talabani of the Accordance Front's decision to suspend its Cabinet membership on Tuesday.

    A statement by Talabani's office suggested that the Kurdish president had sought to dissuade al-Hashemi from breaking with al-Maliki's government.

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