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Since 1st March, 1999
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Five foreign contractors killed in Iraq blast

Baghdad, June 14 (Reuters): A suicide car bombing sowed havoc in the heart of Baghdad today, killing at least 13 people, five of them foreign contractors in a passing convoy.

Two Britons, a Frenchman and an American were among the dead. The US military said 10 contractors had been wounded.

The five contractors killed were employees of a subsidiary of the US conglomerate General Electric or security contractors working with the company. Iraqi interior minister Falah al-Naqib said preliminary information suggested a foreigner carried out the attack.

“The initial information shows that the person who carried out the bombing was not Iraqi and came from outside Iraq,” he told Al Arabiya television.

The US-led occupying power and Iraqi officials say foreign fighters have played a major role in the violence gripping Iraq.

Today’s blast was the second suicide bombing in the Iraqi capital in 24 hours and coincided with a wave of assassinations aimed at the new interim government appointed to take over from the US-British occupation authorities on June 30.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said five foreign workers had been killed in the morning rush-hour attack, which devastated a busy street and ripped the front off one building. “The terrorists are trying to prevent the transfer of power and sovereignty on June 30,” he said.

Hospital officials said at least eight other people, including two African workers, were also killed and dozens wounded, many of them with severe burns or limbs torn off by the blast near Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

In New York, a spokesman for General Electric said three of the dead contractors were employees of a wholly-owned GE subsidiary, Granite Services Inc., and the other two were security staff contracted to the company's team in Iraq.

The US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) employs thousands of contractors from many nations. Some are involved in reconstruction projects, others are private security guards. Police said a bomber in a red four-wheel-drive vehicle set off the explosion, hitting two other CPA vehicles.

A wave of kidnappings have compounded security concerns for foreigners in Iraq, and on Monday CNN Turk television said two Turkish nationals had been taken hostage. No further details were available.

Crowds of shocked and angry Iraqis swarmed over the area, struggling to pull survivors from the damaged building.

Dozens of people hammered on two of the CPA vehicles caught in the blast, dancing on their roofs and chanting “America is the enemy of God”. They then set fire to their fuel tanks.

US tanks and other military vehicles escorted by soldiers on foot later sealed off the area with razor wire. Truckloads of American troops in riot gear arrived to control the crowds.

Yesterday, a suicide car bombing killed up to 12 Iraqis near a US-Iraqi base in Baghdad and gunmen killed a senior Iraqi civil servant and a university professor. A top foreign ministry official was assassinated the previous day.

US secretary of state Colin Powell, acknowledging the difficulty of protecting Iraq’s new leaders, pledged to do “everything we can to defeat this insurgency”. Last month, a suicide bombing killed Izzedin Salim, the head of Iraq’s now-dissolved governing council, and another council member survived an ambush south of the capital.

Interim President Ghazi Yawar described the latest assassinations as “random killings” and said violence would diminish once Iraq had rebuilt its own security forces.

As the interim government reeled under the onslaught, British defence secretary Geoff Hoon flew to Basra on a surprise visit to British troops in the area.

The US military today moved more prisoners from Abu Ghraib jail, at the heart of a scandal over prisoner abuse by US forces, under a programme to cut numbers there by June 30.

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