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Iraq blast kills 10, Filipinos go home

Baghdad, July 19 (Agencies): A suicide bomber blew up a fuel truck near a Baghdad police station today, killing at least 10 people, wounding 62 and destroying cars and buildings.

It was the third major suicide bomb attack in the past week against the Iraqi police, National Guard or senior members of Iraq’s new government in a seemingly accelerated campaign.

Senior defence ministry official Issam Jassem Qassim was assassinated outside his home by three gunmen late yesterday, a ministry spokesman said, a day after a failed attempt on the life of Iraq’s justice minister which killed five bodyguards.

The truck bombing came as the Philippines prepared to bring the last of its troops home, giving in to a demand by insurgents threatening to kill a Filipino hostage.

At the scene of the blast, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Salter said between 10 and 15 people had been killed in an attack he said was probably carried out by a suicide bomber.

“We believe it was possibly a fuel-truck type vehicle,” Salter told reporters. Witnesses said they saw a fuel tanker racing towards the police station moments before the explosion.

Reuters Television pictures showed flames still licking the wreckage of burnt-out cars an hour after the blast, and smoke rising from smouldering buildings. Bystanders gathered up the body parts of the dead, filling several boxes with remains.

Iraq’s health ministry said it had so far recorded nine dead and 62 wounded but expected its death toll to rise. The bomb went off shortly after 0400 GMT, as people were arriving at work. Car workshops across the road from the police station bore the brunt of the blast, witnesses said, and several people working there were killed. “Those who were standing in the open were killed. Those who saw it were killed,” said car workshop worker Laith Abdel Karim.

It was the latest in a series of suicide bombings in recent days. A car bomb outside the headquarters of the US military and the Iraqi interim government in Baghdad last week killed 11 people and another outside an Iraqi National Guard garrison 200 km northwest of Baghdad killed 10.

A suicide bomber tried to assassinate Iraq’s justice minister on Saturday and the governor of the northern Nineveh province was assassinated in an attack on his convoy last week.

Eleven of the Philippine contingent have already left Iraq. Philippine foreign secretary Delia Albert said most of the remaining 40 would arrive in Kuwait today, meeting the deadline to save truck driver Angelo de la Cruz’s life. A convoy of vehicles carrying around two dozen Philippine soldiers left a base near Hilla, south of Baghdad, heading towards Kuwait.

Six Filipino soldiers are unaccounted for, but are expected to remain in Baghdad to help protect the Philippine embassy.

The Philippine decision has drawn criticism from the US, a major military and aid donor to Manila, and from Iraq. Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said yesterday the move amounted to giving in to terrorism.

Shia paper ban lifted

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi lifted a ban imposed by the former US-led occupation on a controversial newspaper belonging to Moqtada al-Sadr in what appears to be a more conciliatory stance towards the Shia cleric.

“The Hawza newspaper was allowed to be published again pursuant to an order by Prime Minister Allawi, who has expressed his absolute belief in a free press,” according to a government statement.

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