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Female Suicide Bomber Wounds 7 U.S. Troops

A woman wearing an explosives belt blew herself up near an American patrol northeast of Baghdad - a rare female suicide bombing that wounded seven U.S. troops and five Iraqis, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

More Iraqi refugees, heartened by reports of the lull in violence in Baghdad, were beginning to return and on Wednesday a convoy of more than 800 people was expected in the Iraqi capital after an overnight bus ride from Damascus, Syria.

Khaled Ibrahim, 45, from central Baghdad, said Tuesday he was so homesick after having been away for a year that he wanted to give it a try after hearing things in Iraq have improved.

"If I go and discover that the situation is not stable I will come back" to Syria, said Ibrahim, with his wife, three sons and two daughters in tow.

But tensions - and security concerns - remained in Baghdad. American troops fired on a minibus carrying bank employees on their way to work Tuesday after the vehicle tried to go through a roadblock, killing at least two people on board.

And on Wednesday, Iraqi lawmakers briefly boycotted the start of a legislative session, demanding that U.S. forces ease checkpoint searches as they try to enter the fortified Green Zone, where the parliament building is located.

Firyad Rawndouzi, spokesman for the Kurdish bloc, said the boycott came in response to "the insulting behavior of the American soldiers toward parliament members" as they tried to reach the building.

The U.S. military says attacks across Iraq have fallen to their lowest level since February 2006, attributing this partly to a buildup of nearly 30,000 troops earlier this year.

A statement said the Diyala attack happened Tuesday near the provincial capital Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when the woman detonated her explosives belt.

Attacks by women in Iraq are believed to be rare but not unprecedented.

In April 2006, one of four suicide bombers who attacked a Shiite mosque in Baghdad was wearing a woman's abaya veil, U.S. officials said. And in November 2005, a 38-year-old Belgian convert to Islam blew herself up trying to attack U.S. troops, but she was the only one killed, U.S. officials said.

With the lull in violence in Baghdad, American and Iraqi forces conducted sweeps against al Qaeda outside the capital, the U.S. military said Wednesday, detaining suspects in Tikrit and Kirkuk as well as the Iraqi capital.

In other developments:

  • A federal grand jury investigating Blackwater Worldwide heard witnesses Tuesday as a private lawsuit accused the government contractor's bodyguards of ignoring orders and abandoning their posts shortly before taking part in a Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.
  • The military said Tuesday two U.S. soldiers were killed in an explosion north of Baghdad. They're the first U.S. combat deaths reported in five days. And in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, police said a burst of violence has killed at least 11 Iraqis, including seven who died when a suicide bomber attacked a police headquarters.
  • Iraq's top Shiite cleric renewed his call for an end to sectarian violence in the country and for Sunni and Shiite Muslims to unite, according to a Sunni cleric who met him Tuesday in this holy city south of Baghdad. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's plea for peace and unity came as a group of Sunni and Shiite clerics met in Najaf in the latest attempt by clerics from both sects to stem the violence.
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