BAGHDAD (AFP) – Two powerful bombs exploded outside the Iraqi capital’s tightly-guarded Green Zone on Tuesday as US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was ending a visit focused on a controversial military pact.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said an agreement was “very close” and that there were “new ideas and new language” to clinch a mutually-acceptable security deal. “This needs some bold political decisions now,” he said.
An Iraqi military officer said at least one soldier was wounded in the blasts which went off in quick succession at a time of heavy traffic.
The first blast targeted a parked Iraqi armoured vehicle and a car bomb went off minutes later at a nearby car park opposite the foreign ministry, on the edge of the Green Zone where Iraq’s government and the US embassy are located.
Witnesses said a limpet-type magnetic mine had been used in the first attack against the armoured vehicle parked at a security checkpoint leading to the Green Zone. The tyres of the vehicle caught fire and the doors were blown out.
Minutes after the attacks, Negroponte began his scheduled press conference with Zebari.
“Progress on security is striking,” Negroponte told reporters at the US-manned press centre inside the Green Zone. “I’m encouraged by the advancements in Iraq in terms of security and policies.”
Negroponte was wrapping up a four-day visit to Baghdad for talks on the controversial deal on the presence of American troops in the country after a UN Security Council mandate for multinational forces expires on December 31.
Even as they spoke, the US military reported another death of an American soldier killed in the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday in a gunbattle with an Al-Qaeda suspect.
The latest US casualty raised to 4,178 the number of US troops killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.
Outside the Green Zone, Iraqi soldiers fired in the air to keep motorists and pedestrians out of the bombed area while two fire fighting trucks put out the flames.
In November 2007, almost at the same place, a booby-trap device exploded as a US convoy drove through, killing an American officer.
The latest attacks in the central Salhiyah neighbourhood of Baghdad came despite a tight security cordon and stepped-up checks on vehicles and followed a spate of bombings in the capital last week.
The US military said on Saturday it had killed an Al-Qaeda militant who planned some of the biggest bombings in Baghdad and who killed a group of Russian diplomats in 2006.
Mahir Ahmad Mahmud al-Zubaydi, also known as Abu Assad or Abu Rami, was killed along with an unidentified woman in Baghdad’s Sunni district of Adhamiyah on Friday, the US military said.
The killing of Abu Rami had dealt a severe blow to Al-Qaeda in Baghdad, the US military said last week.