Insurgents fire mortar at palace

A suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol today on a busy commercial street, killing at least 17 people and wounding 26, officials said.

The attackers lured the patrol to the scene by shooting a policeman, officials said.

The suicide bomb struck as the investigation was underway, police said.

Police Brigadier General Sarhad Qader gave the casualty figure of 17 dead and 26 wounded but did not say how many were civilians.

Police Captain Farhad Talabani said the bombing took place on a road leaving Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad.

Attacks on the security forces in Kirkuk are common. Insurgents last week opened fire on a police patrol in Kirkuk killing three officers, while a roadside bomb a few miles away killed two more police officers.

Insurgents fired a mortar at a US ceremony attended by top officials today to hand over a presidential palace in Saddam Hussein’s hometown to local Iraqi authorities, sending the US ambassador and top commander scrambling for cover but causing no injuries.

As a US colonel was giving a speech, the mortar whistled as it fell into a field about 300 yards away from the palace in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. The mortar failed to explode when it hit the ground.

US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and the US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, briefly went inside the palace, but emerged a few minutes later to continue the ceremony.

Later, Hamad Hamoud Shagtti, the Salahuddin provincial governor, received a symbolic key to the palace and a deputy governor raised the Iraqi flag over the complex.

Afterwards, they took a tour through the building, which Saddam ordered built for his mother in 1991 and is considered the largest and most elaborate of the palaces built during his rule.

“This was an ineffectual attempt to stop the progress that goes on everyday in Iraq,” said Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the US command.

He said the hand over of the palace was an important step forward in Iraq’s development, something that the insurgent attacks have done little to slow down, despite daily violence.

The palace is part of a complex on more than 1,000 acres overlooking the Tigris River. There are 136 buildings on the property, with a combined 1.5 million square feet of administrative and living space, including 18 palaces, the US command said in a statement before the ceremony.

“The planned turnover of the complex to the Iraqi Ministry of Finance and the provincial government will be a landmark event highlighting the increased capability of the Iraqi government to administer and govern itself,” said Colonel Billy Buckner, Multi-National Corps-Iraq spokesman in the statement.

Since it was taken over by US troops in 2003, it has served as a division headquarters for US forces based in the region.

“Although 28 other coalition operating bases have already been turned over to Iraqi Security Forces control this year, the Tikrit Palace complex is the most significant transition of real estate thus far,” the US statement said.

Three US soldiers have died in combat operations in two incidents in northern and western Iraq, the US military said today.

A soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Division died after the bomb detonated near his vehicle yesterday near Habaniyah, 50 miles west of Baghdad. There are several US Army units assigned to the Marine division.

Two soldiers from Task Force Freedom were killed on Saturday by small arms fire while on patrol in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a separate statement said.

The names of the deceased were withheld pending notification of next of kin.

As of today, at least 2,100 members of the US military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,638 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers. The figures include five military civilians.

Iraq’s anti-corruption commission today announced that members of the former government who are under investigation will not be allowed to run in next month’s parliamentary elections.

Judge Radhi al-Radhi issued a statement saying there are some ministers, undersecretaries and directors who are accused of financial and administrative corruption.

“Since there are financial corruption dossiers for these officials at the Iraqi special courts, they are not qualified to take part as candidates in the coming elections,” the statement said.

A commission official said Minister of Public Works Nasreen Berwari, who is the wife of Vice president Ghazi al-Yawer, and Hazin al-Shaalan, a former defence minister, are among those banned.

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