Explosions Blast Military, Government Convoys in Baghdad

Two explosions struck separate military and governmental convoys in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing five Iraqi civilians and wounding two American soldiers, the U.S. military said.

The attacks were the latest reminder of the daily violence that continues to face Iraqis even as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw from the country over the next three years.

The deadliest blast targeted a U.S. convoy shortly after 3 p.m. in a northwestern area of Baghdad called Mansour, killing three Iraqi civilians and wounding the two U.S. soldiers, the U.S. military said. It added that initial intelligence indicated al-Qaida in Iraq was to blame.

The U.S. statement did not specify the cause of the blast, but Iraqi police said it was a car bomb.

Also Tuesday, a senior Iraqi education official escaped an assassination attempt while traveling through central Baghdad, according to a government statement. The attempt came less than a week after the Minister of Higher Education escaped injury when a roadside bomb exploded near his convoy in the same district.

The ministry's undersecretary, Ammar Aziz Mohammed Ali, was not hurt when a roadside bomb hit his convoy midmorning Tuesday, according to the statement.

The U.S. military said two Iraqi civilians, a woman and a child, were killed and three others were wounded in the attack.

Attacks against Americans have dropped sharply along with overall violence over the past year but U.S. troops continue to be targeted along with Iraqis. U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned that militants would step up attacks before Jan. 31 provincial elections.

During his inauguration speech Tuesday, President Barack Obama promised to "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan." That's in line with his pledge to end the war in Iraq.

The U.S. must pull out all forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 according to a new security agreement that took effect on Jan. 1.

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, agreed to provide rent-free buildings for two years to embassies inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone "to encourage the world's countries to reopen their embassies in Iraq," a government statement said.

The United States formally transferred control of the Green Zone to Iraqi authorities on Jan. 1 in compliance with the new security pact.

In political developments Tuesday, Iraq's Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi accused his former Shiite ally Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of trying to grab power in southern Iraq and obstructing efforts to rebuild there after years of war.

The allegations came as the two former allies have clashed over a campaign to decentralize the government.

Al-Maliki is trying to amend the constitution to give the central government more power and curtail those of provincial administrations. He argues the alternative to a strong central government would be chaos.

But Abdul-Mahdi, whose political party hopes to create and lead a self-ruled region in southern Iraq, said Tuesday a strengthened central government is hindering reconstruction in the Shiite-dominated south.

"The monopoly of power in Baghdad by the government and its ministries must be removed because it has become a hurdle to any development," Abdul-Mahdi said, without mentioning al-Maliki by name. "Iraq cannot be left up to the thinking of one official or one department. The constitution and investment laws must be implemented."