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Iraq Interior Ministry Attack Kills 29

A suicide car bomb and two mortar shells hit Iraq's Interior Ministry during National Police Day celebrations Monday, killing 29 people and injuring 18, officials said. The U.S. ambassador and Iraq's interior and defense ministers were in attendance, but were far from the attacks.

An Internet statement by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the name of his al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist group rebuked Sunni Arabs for taking part in last month's parliamentary elections, saying they had "thrown a rope" to save U.S. policy.

The attack on the Interior Ministry began with a suicide car bomber who exploded his vehicle near an entrance checkpoint. Less than an hour later, two mortar rounds landed about a half-mile from where police were gathered to mark National Police Day.

Most of the dead and injured were policemen, said Ala'a AbidAli, an official at al-Kindi hospital. Several police cars were destroyed, and body parts were scattered on the ground.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr and Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi were among hundreds watching a parade of marching soldiers, police patrols and military equipment, but they were about a half-mile from the mortar explosion. It wasn't clear if the three were still in the area when the mortar hit, and the U.S. Embassy didn't immediately return calls.

In other developments:

  • Elections officials Monday canceled a news conference where they had hoped to announce more preliminary results or Iraq's Dec. 15. parliamentary elections, saying officials were still auditing the results from about 50 ballot boxes. Results will be released after the four-day Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha, which begins Tuesday, said a member of Iraq's electoral commission.
  • There are reports Monday that the French engineer captured Dec. 5 who was freed from captivity on Sunday escaped out of a farmhouse window and ran to coalition troops. Iraqi police said he was thrown out of a car approaching a checkpoint. The U.S. military Monday refused to release any information or what role, if any, U.S. troops had in Bernard Planche's release. The Defense Ministry in Paris said the 52-year-old Planche would return to France on Monday.
  • The leader of Iraq's main Sunni Arab political group said after meeting President Jalal Talabani on Sunday that significant headway had been made in forming a government of national unity. "Talabani and I have an identical point of view regarding the formation of a national unity government based on consensus," Adnan al-Dulaimi said.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. military said eight U.S. troops and four American civilians died aboard a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter that crashed late Saturday.

    With the latest military deaths, at least 2,207 U.S. service members have died since the war started in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

    The military said it wasn't yet known what caused the crash and an investigation would take some time. The helicopter went down about seven miles east of Tal Afar, a northern city near the Syrian border that has seen heavy fighting with insurgents.

    In other violence Monday, gunmen assassinated an investigative judge in Kirkuk, police Capt. Farhad Talabani said. In Baghdad, gunmen fired on three people working on Iraq's de-Baathification commission, killing one, police Capt. Qassim Hussein said. Gunmen also killed an Iraqi intelligence officer and a doctor in separate attacks, Hussein said. Five bodies bound and blindfolded were found shot to death in Baghdad late Sunday, police said. A car bomb exploded west of Baqouba, killing two civilians, police said.

    An Internet statement by al-Zarqawi was posted Monday on an Islamic Web site known for publishing extremist material. The authenticity could not be confirmed, but the tape sounded like the Jordanian-born leader of the group.

    "This is a call to the Sunnis, in general and the followers of the Islamic Party in particular," al-Zarqawi said, referring to the Islamic Party in Iraq. The party is the biggest political home for Iraq's Sunni Arabs, with Mohsen Abdul-Hamid its spiritual leader.

    "Where are you being led to? Don't you fear God?" al-Zarqawi asked.

    Referring to the Dec. 15 elections, he said: "At the time, it was very clear to everyone that the crusader enemy was losing, and then you threw a rope to save him."

    Al-Zarqawi accused the Islamic Party and Sunnis of collaborating with the United States and said those who voted in the parliamentary elections were "hypocrites."

    He asked for divine punishment: "God, curse the leaders of the Islamic Party and those who collaborated with them."

    He said the insurgents could have disrupted the elections, "but we did not do it to avoid killing some of the Sunnis who were confused" over whether to take part.

    He also said the United States' announcement last month that it will withdraw some troops from Iraq this year was a victory for the Islamic forces.

    Three senior members of the Islamic party declined to respond to al-Zarqawi's statement.