Bombings kill U.S. contractor, 23 Iraqis in Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Bombs killed an American finance expert and at least 23 Iraqis Thursday in one of the worst sieges of violence the Iraqi capital has seen in months.

Dr. Stephen Everhart, an international development and finance expert under contract to the U.S. Agency for International Development, was killed when a roadside bomb hit the convoy in which he was traveling, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Three people were wounded, including at least one American, they said.

Police said the Iraqis died in a series of explosions that struck Shiite neighborhoods in south Baghdad. At least 120 people wounded in those attacks.

Most of the Iraqi dead and wounded were claimed when three bombs planted inside black plastic bags detonated inside a market packed with shoppers in the al Shurta neighborhood. Police put the toll there at 21 dead and 107 wounded.

A bomb in a parked car detonated in the Abu Disheer neighborhood in south Baghdad, killing two people and injuring 10 others, and a roadside bomb attack on an Iraqi army patrol in the Sunni neighborhood of Jamiaa wounded three troops, Iraqi police said.

Everhart was visiting a branch of the Mustansiriyah University, where he was working to introduce a new business curriculum when the roadside bomb exploded. It wasn't clear if the bombers knew who was riding in the convoy.

The assaults come amid growing questions about the effectiveness of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which still lacks a minister to head it, due to the long-running political impasse following the March 2010 elections. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who's acting minister of defense and the interior, has said that political leaders have stacked the ministry with their followers, and it was riddled with collusion and infiltration.

Adding to the uncertainties for the country's security, the major political blocs have been unable to agree on whether to ask U.S. forces to stay beyond the Dec. 31 withdrawal date agreed to under President George W. Bush.

The explosions occurred just five days before the anniversary commemorations for the martyrdom of Imam Moussa al Kadhim, a Shiite Muslim holy figure. Millions of Shiite pilgrims are expected to visit his shrine in Baghdad's Kadhemiyah neighborhood, and their marches have been a prime target for Sunni extremists in past years.

Security forces have already closed the Kadhemiyah neighborhood and prevented vehicles from entering anywhere in the vicinity of the shrine, and many new checkpoints have been set up in the neighborhood.

The State Department condemned the attack that took Everhart's life. It said the project he was working on was supported by the Iraqi ministry of higher education.

"His support of efforts to advance a modern and efficient financial sector has benefited the people and business enterprises of Iraq and his lifelong dedication to public service has improved the lives of countless people around the world," a spokesman said.

(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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