BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A powerful bomb exploded Friday in an outdoor market in a majority Shiite part of east Baghdad, killing at least nine people and wounding 31, police said, as Iraq’s prime minister expressed hope two key security posts could be filled within days.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki planned to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki later Friday in Baghdad, the first high-level delegation from Tehran to visit since the new Iraqi government was formed last week.
Mottaki arrived a day after the Iraqi leader said he may soon be ready to name the two men who will be charged with carrying out his pledge to take over security for Iraq within 18 months.
The initial focus of the security effort will be restoring order for the capital’s more than 6 million residents, who have suffered the most from suicidal killers, roadside bombs and sectarian death squads.
“It is time for those who want to steal the smiles from the Iraqi people and turn its women into mourners to be silenced,” said deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, the Sunni Arab who is filling the defense post temporarily.
Violence resumed Friday when a bomb planted under a car exploded in an outdoor market in eastern Baghdad, killing at least nine people and wounding 30, hospital security official Sgt. Sabah Muhsin said.
The explosion occurred at 10 a.m. in the Nahda area, police Lt. Ahmed Mohammed said, a time when the market, where old furniture, household goods and appliances are sold, was especially busy during the start of the Islamic weekend.
A bomb also exploded in a popular outdoor market in the western Baghdad neighborhood of al-Baiyaa, wounding 13 civilians, police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said.
Elsewhere in the capital, a roadside bomb missed an American convoy but injured three Iraqis on a minibus, police officer Maitham Addurraq said.
A roadside bomb also hit a police patrol at 8:30 a.m. in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing one policeman and wounding four others, police Brig. Gen. Khatab Omar said. Capt. Khudier Ajil, a security official in Tikrit General Hospital, said U.S. soldiers brought 14 bullet-riddled bodies, including those of two children, to the morgue in Saddam Hussein’s former hometown late Thursday. It was unclear who had killed them.
Al-Zubaie did not provide details on al-Maliki’s plans to restore security in Baghdad. However, President Jalal Talabani said securing the country would probably require a unified unit of soldiers and police. “We are forming a force to protect Baghdad by the best and trained elements in the interior and defense ministries. They will be under one leadership and under the direct supervision of the prime minister,” Talabani told a Shiite-owned TV.
Iraqi police and army units now wear a variety of uniforms. Talabani said the new unit would wear one uniform, “be the only authorized force to travel in Baghdad.” The goal is to eliminate death squads and other armed groups who roam the capital disguised as security forces.
The Iranian foreign minister was supposed to have come to Iraq on May 15 but the visit was delayed. Mottaki’s predecessor, Kamal Kharrazi, visited Iraq last year and the two sides issued a joint statement blaming Saddam Hussein for the bloody 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged difficult times in the Iraq war during their meeting in Washington on Thursday and admitted making costly mistakes, but vowed to keep troops there until the new Iraqi government takes hold.
“Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing,” Bush said in a White House news conference with Blair. “Not everything has turned out the way we hoped.”
Blair said he left a meeting this week with Iraq’s new prime minister “thinking the challenge is still immense, but I also came away thinking more certain than ever that we should rise to it.”
Bush declined to discuss news reports that the Pentagon hoped that the U.S. force, now at 131,000 troops, could be reduced to about 100,000 by year’s end. “We’ll keep the force level there necessary to win,” Bush said.
Al-Maliki said he could decide by Friday on the two security ministers, who were not named last week along with the rest of his Cabinet because of ethnic and sectarian disagreements. The two would then probably be sworn in Sunday, when parliament reconvenes.
“We have a number of names for the interior and defense ministries,” al-Maliki told The Associated Press, adding they would meet Friday to decide on the nominees. He said problems included the large number of candidates presented by his Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Sunni Arabs’ Iraqi Accordance Front.
“The alliance has six names for the Interior Ministry post and the Accordance Front has tens of names,” al-Maliki said after meeting Talabani and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country’s largest Shiite party.
Al-Hakim said the alliance has reservations over some nominees “because they had links with the former regime” of Saddam Hussein.
On Thursday, a roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers when it struck their vehicle in southern Baghdad. Their deaths brought to 2,462 the embers of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started on March 2003, according to an AP count.
The military also said its troops killed three suspected insurgents who were placing roadside bombs near the Abu Ghraib district west of Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad detained 15 terrorists in three separate events earlier this week south of Baghdad, the military said, including 11 who were captured Wednesday when they fired upon a traffic control point from a mosque. Two suspects were detained Tuesday in connection with a weapons cache and two others were caught the same day trying to drive through a traffic control point with explosive material in their truck, according to the statement. The death toll from Thursday’s violence also rose to 14 as police said a bomb left in a sack in a liquor shop in Sinjar, 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Mosul, exploded, killing the shop’s owner and wounding two customers.