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New Violence Grips Iraq

A wave of violence swept across Iraq on Wednesday as an Iraqi minister escaped an assassination attempt and a series of car bombs exploded in and around the capital.

The convoy of Iraq's interim planning minister was targeted by gunmen as it drove through Baghdad, police said.

Mahdi al-Hafidh survived the attack, but one of his bodyguards was killed and two others were wounded.

In other violence, a suicide bomber detonated a garbage truck packed with explosives outside the Agriculture Ministry and a hotel used by Western contractors on Wednesday, killing at least three people, officials said. The bomber also died.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that 30 American contractors were among 40 people injured in the blast. No Americans were killed. In an Internet statement, al Qaeda in Iraq purportedly claimed responsibility for the attack on the Sadeer hotel, calling it the "hotel of the Jews."

Two other car bombings were also reported. Police 1st Lt. Mohammed al-Duleimi said one car bomber targeted an American checkpoint outside a base in Habaniyah, 50 miles west of Baghdad. Another car bomb exploded near U.S. troops close to a U.S. base in Abu Ghraib, just west of the capital, police Lt. Akram al-Zubaie said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iraqi officials said that 41 bodies — some bullet-riddled, others beheaded — have been found at two separate sites and they believe some of the corpses are Iraqi soldiers kidnapped and executed by insurgents.

In other developments:

  • Guerrillas struck a police patrol with a roadside bomb in the southern city of Basra, killing one policeman and wounding three more, Lt. Col. Karim Al-Zaydi said.
  • The Philippines appealed Wednesday to suspected anti-U.S. insurgents threatening to kill a Filipino hostage in Iraq to free him unharmed, stressing it does not provide any support to the American forces there.
  • Saddam Hussein could go on trial by the end of this year, Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday. Hussein will be tried before the Iraqi Special Tribunal established in late 2003.

    Twenty of the corpses were found late Tuesday in a field near Rumana, a village about 10 miles east of the western city of Qaim, near the Syrian border, police Capt. Muzahim al-Karbouli said.

    Each of the bodies had been riddled with bullets — apparently several days earlier. They were found wearing civilian clothes and one of the dead was a woman, al-Karbouli said.

    South of Baghdad in Latifiya, Iraqi troops on Tuesday made another gruesome discovery, finding 15 headless bodies in a building inside an abandoned former army base, Defense Ministry Capt. Sabah Yassin said.

    The bodies included 10 men, three women and two children. Their identities, like the others found in western Iraq, were not known.

    Yassin said some of the dead men in Latifiya were thought to have been part of a group of Iraqi soldiers who were kidnapped by insurgents in the area two weeks ago, Yassin said.

    Wednesday's truck bombing in central Baghdad shook nearby buildings in the heart of the capital, injuring dozens of people and covering a huge swath of sky with acrid black smoke. Volleys of automatic weapons fire could be heard before and after the explosion.

    Police said a group of insurgents wearing police uniforms first shot dead a guard at the Agriculture Ministry's gate, allowing the truck to enter a compound the ministry shares with the adjacent Sadeer hotel. Guards in the area then fired on the vehicle, trying to disable it before it exploded.

    The truck blew up in a parking lot. Several burning vehicles were in flames and around 20 cars were damaged.

    The violence came a day after the U.S. military announced it was speeding up an inquiry into the shooting death of an Italian agent killed Friday by U.S. troops at a Baghdad checkpoint — a friendly fire incident that has strained relations with Italy, a key American ally. The agent was escorting Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the airport just after insurgents freed her.

    The shooting that killed Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and wounded Sgrena, a 56-year-old journalist for the left-wing Il Manifesto newspaper, angered Italians and rekindled questions about the country's involvement in Iraq.

    Italy sent 3,000 troops to Iraq, while Bulgaria has 460 here. Both countries have said they will not withdraw their troops, but domestic pressure to bring them home is growing.

    In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the Italian intelligence agent killed by American forces in Iraq had U.S. military authorization for his operation to win the release of a hostage.

    Berlusconi also told Italy's Senate that the car carrying agent Nicola Calipari and former hostage Giuliana Sgrena stopped immediately when a light was flashed.

    President Bush called Berlusconi on Friday and promised a full investigation into the attack, which took place after nightfall as the car carrying Sgrena, Calipari and two other agents approached Baghdad airport. Another agent also was wounded.

    The U.S.-led coalition said a follow-up investigation will be led by U.S. Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel and will take three to four weeks. Italian officials were invited to participate.

    The investigation was ordered by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George Casey. Vangjel, of the 18th Airborne Corps, commands all Army artillery in Iraq. He arrived in the country in January.

    In Washington, Casey said he had no indication Italian officials gave advance notice of the car's route. "I personally do not have any indication of that, even on a preliminary basis," Casey said.

    The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, which controls Baghdad, said the vehicle was "traveling at high speeds" and "refused to stop at a checkpoint."