BAGHDAD, Iraq – A homicide attacker exploded a car bomb outside the home of a deputy interior minister Saturday, killing at least three police and one civilian. The blast hurled two cars onto the front lawn of the house, and police fired shots to disperse distraught bystanders who scuffled with them.
The terrorist group Jama'at al-Tawhid and Jihad, led by al Qaeda-linked figure Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the attack, Reuters reported.
Abdul-Jabbar Youssef al-Sheikhli (search), the deputy minister in charge of security, was slightly injured in the forehead and right arm, said Hassan Hadi, a Health Ministry official. "I expect he will leave the hospital in a short time," Hadi said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search) said the attack was carried out by a homicide driver and that al-Sheikhli's guards fired on the vehicle before the blast. Kimmitt said the dead included three of al-Sheikhli's police bodyguards and a woman neighbor in addition to the bomber.
Al-Sheikhli is a member of the Shiite Muslim Dawa party, which lost a prominent member this week in another fatal car bombing. On Monday, the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Dawa member Izzadine Saleem (search), was killed along with at least six other people near the headquarters of the U.S.-run coalition in the capital. The Zarqawi-led terrorist group also claimed responsibility for that attack, Reuters reported.
Also Saturday, the military said a U.S. soldier was killed and three others from the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division were wounded in an attack on their vehicle south of Baghdad, and a Marine died in a non-hostile incident. It said the soldiers' vehicle was "ambushed by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device" in Mahmoudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad. The statement did not say when the attack occurred.
The military said the Marine, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (search), died Friday near Camp Fallujah, west of Baghdad, while "conducting security and stability operations."
In Najaf, south of Baghdad, fighting broke out Saturday between U.S. forces and the militia of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) near the city's police directorate and the governor's office. In combat there Friday, a mortar round fell 10 yards from the house of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, Iraq (news - web sites)'s most prominent Shiite cleric. It wasn't clear who fired it.
In Karbala, another holy city where the two adversaries have engaged in intense battles in recent days, officials of al-Sadr and al-Sistani said separately that militiamen and U.S. forces had agreed to stop fighting there.
The clerics' representatives of al-Sadr and al-Sistani declined to give their names, and there was no immediate comment from the U.S. military. But witnesses said there were no combatants on the streets of Karbala on Saturday.
The blast outside al-Sheikhli's house occurred about 200 yards from the headquarters of the former Iraqi general security service in the Baghdad district of Baladiyat.
Police and U.S. military officers at the scene said the dead included four Iraqi policemen and a female neighbor who died in her home.
U.S. Army Capt. Brian O'Malley of the 1st Cavalry Division, the U.S. Army unit in charge of security in Baghdad, said the 8:05 a.m. blast was caused by a "vehicle-borne improvised explosive device."
It was unclear whether the bomb was detonated by a homicide attacker.
Visiting the site, Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi was mobbed by distraught neighbors who screamed to "come and see what happened to our homes."
"God does not accept this," one man shouted.
"It would seem that the criminals do not want the law to prevail or the security men to implement it," he told reporters. "I want every honorable man in this country to condemn this crime."
Minutes before al-Sumeidi arrived, scuffles broke out between police and a crowd, and police fired shots to disperse the people.
More than an hour after the blast, smoke rose from several wrecked cars, and debris was scattered in the street. The blast hurled two cars through a wall and onto the garden of the deputy minister's house.
"We were expecting this, but what could we do?" said neighbor Khaled Ahmad, whose two sons left the house for school minutes before the blast. "In some ways, we benefited from the presence of so many policemen. But we also knew that something like what happened today was coming."
Ahmad and Faris Dhaher, a retired doctor who lives across the road from al-Sheikhli's house, said there were at least 20 policemen outside the deputy minister's house at any given time. They said al-Sheikhli moved into the house six months ago.
Dhaher's wife was injured in the arm and nose.
In Baqouba, a town north of Baghdad, the president of Diyala University, Khosham Atta, survived an assassination attempt Saturday when gunmen shot at his car as he went to work, the university said. Atta was unhurt.
Several explosions were heard Saturday in Baghdad. Iraqi guards said they believed a mortar shell had landed near the Baghdad Hotel, where U.S. civilian contractors are believed to be staying. In another area of the city, a rocket struck a two-story house near the former Ministry of Information, police said.
There were no reports of casualties.