BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraq’s higher education minister escaped unharmed from a car bomb attack on his convoy in Baghdad early Wednesday but at least three of his bodyguards were lightly wounded, a ministry spokesman said.
The attack on independent Shiite lawmaker Sami al-Mudafar was the second attempt on his life within the past two years. The first happened when he was education minister under the transitional government of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
Higher Education Ministry spokesman Bassel al-Khatib said a car bomb exploded in downtown Baghdad’s Karradah district as al-Mudafar’s four-vehicle convoy passed. At least two vehicles were damaged.
Al-Khatib had no details if the car bomb was driven by a suicide attacker or was remote control detonated.
Police Maj. Qusai Ibrahim said the minister was unharmed in the attack and his car sped away from the scene.
The motive for the attack was not immediately clear, but al-Mudafar has been reportedly outspoken against increasing the influence of Islam on university campuses. Sunni Arab insurgents have also repeatedly targeted members of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
Al-Mudafar is an independent lawmaker in the outgoing parliament and did not run in Dec. 15 elections for the next four-year parliament.
Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, al-Mudafar was a biochemistry professor at University of Baghdad college of sciences and was elected head of the university following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
A roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad missed a U.S. convoy but killed an Iraqi passer-by and wounded another, while another blast injured two Iraqi policemen in northern Baghdad, police said.
Police found the bodies of three men who had been blindfolded, bound and shot repeatedly in eastern Baghdad’s Sadr City, police said. The identities of the men were unclear, but their deaths came amid a wave of similar killings linked to worsening sectarian tensions between armed Shiite and Sunni Arab groups.
An unarmed and unmanned U.S. aircraft providing security coverage for a Shiite festival went down near Baghdad’s eastern Sadr City neighborhood on Tuesday, but the cause of the mishap was not immediately known, the military said Wednesday.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft shortly after it too off at about 10:30 a.m. from an airfield in Taji, air base 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Baghdad, the military said.
The aircraft, belonging to Multi-National Division-Baghdad forces, made a “controlled parachute landing,” said the military, which had no immediate comment on what caused the downing.
The aircraft was involved in security observations for Shiite pilgrims taking part in Ashoura commemorations, which mark the 7th century death of revered Shiite saint, Imam Hussein.
Ashoura events held over the past two years have been targeted by Sunni Arab bombers who have killed more than 230 people.
Security has been heightened across Iraq, particularly in Shiite suburbs in Baghdad and major Shiite cities like Karbala in the country’s south, as the month of Ashoura reaches its climax on Thursday.
Thousands of security forces have been frisking people and checking cars at pilgrimage sites in a bid to prevent a repeat of the violence which has marred previous Ashoura commemorations, at which Shiite pilgrims beat and whip themselves in a blood-soaked display of mourning over Hussein’s death.