BAGHDAD (AFP) -Insurgent bombers launched yet another blitz across the Iraq capital Sunday, with attacks striking a commercial district, a business school and the street in front of the Iranian embassy.
Iranian officials said their compound had not been deliberately targeted, but the minibus bomb exploded only 50 metres (yards) away, amid mounting tension over Tehran’s relations with its war torn neighbour.
Elsewhere in the city, a suicide bomber triggered an explosive vest outside the School of Economy and Administration at Mustansiriyah University, killing at least 20 people and wounding 30 more, a security official said.
Earlier, a car bomb had wounded five shoppers in the busy Karrada district, defence and medical officials said.
The minibus blast detonated at 8:45 am (0545 GMT) during the busiest period of the morning rush hour, when nearby roads were packed with motorists and pedestrians heading for work, many of them in nearby Iraqi ministries.
The Iranian embassy was not damaged, but amid the wreckage could be seen at least four unexploded artillery shells that had been rigged to the bomb. Had they detonated as well, widespread devastation would have ensued.
“The police told us that it was a Kia minibus, and that two people were killed. It was close to the embassy, but we weren’t the target,” Iranian diplomat Khalil Saadati told AFP.
An Iraqi defence ministry official confirmed that two civilians died in the blast and said eight more were wounded.
The blast ripped the bus apart entirely, leaving only the battered engine block amid scorch marks and a spray of deadly shrapnel. US Blackhawk choppers clattered overhead as a cloud of dust drifted over the embassy.
Car bombs explode in Baghdad every day, as insurgent groups target the US-backed government and rival Sunni and Shiite factions fight a bloody sectarian turf war for control of the capital.
Death squad murders are down this month however since the launch of a city wide security crackdown by up to 90,000 US and Iraqi police and troops, but bombing continues and fighting has intensified in Baghdad’s outskirts.
Overnight, US artillery responded to insurgent mortar fire in the rural southern suburb of Boaitha, rocking Baghdad with a series of thundering blasts.
On Saturday, a suicide bomber had attacked the home of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a party founded by exiles in Tehran and which retains close ties to Iran.
Washington accuses Iran of smuggling sophisticated weapons to Iraqi Shiite parties — in December US forces arrested an alleged Iranian special forces officer in Hakim’s compound — and of funding sectarian militias.
On Friday, US forces arrested Hakim’s son Ammar al-Hakim as he returned across the border from Iran. He was released the same day, but his detention nevertheless triggered massive protests in Shiite cities.
Earlier this month, Iran’s role in Iraq came under the spotlight once more, when US commanders and senior Iraqi officials claimed that radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had decamped across the border.
Sadr’s supporters deny this, but he has not been seen publicly for many weeks, amid persistent reports that senior cadres in his feared Mahdi Army militia have gone to ground to avoid the new US-Iraqi security plan.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government is walking a diplomatic tightrope in its relations with Iran and the United States.
Many of the Shiite parties in Maliki’s ruling coalition maintain links with Tehran, and both Maliki and President Jalal Talabani have visited Iran with an eye to seeking their neighbour’s cooperation in ending the Iraqi crisis.
But, at the same time, Sunni parties in the government fiercely oppose “Persian” influence in Iraqi affairs and accuse Iranian agents of sponsoring militias engaged in the country’s bitter sectarian conflict.
The White House and US commanders also accuse Iran of fomenting trouble, in particular by smuggling deadly armour-piercing roadside bombs called “explosively formed penetrators” to Iraqi Shiite groups.
When an EFP explodes it emits a white-hot slug of molten copper that can cut through the armoured skins of US military vehicles and it has been blamed for the deaths of at least 170 US service personnel since May 2004.
Police found two bodies without heads or hands near a checkpoint near Suleiman Beg, in northern Iraq near the city of Tikrit, police said.
And two labourers were killed and one wounded by a roadside bomb in the Al-Dabbat district of Kirkuk, a disputed oil-rich city in northern Iraq, according to Captain Imad Jassim.
In the “Sunni triangle” west of Baghdad, a suicide bomber late on Saturday detonated a fuel tanker outside a Sunni mosque in the town of Habbaniyah, where tribal chiefs have vowed to fight Al-Qaeda. At least 40 people were killed.