French Embassy convoy hit by bomb in Baghdad; 7 Iraqis wounded

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb exploded Monday morning next to a French Embassy convoy travelling through downtown Baghdad, wounding seven Iraqis, officials said, the latest indication that violence is still a significant fact of life in the country.

The attack came as, Iraq’s top political factions held their first high-level meeting to discuss whether to ask some of the U.S. troops to stay beyond the Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline because of the security situation.

While violence is well below what it was during the years that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, militants are still able to launch deadly attacks. That has led to concerns about what happens when the 47,000 remaining U.S. troops are withdrawn.

Militants sometimes target foreigners like embassy personnel or go after easily identifiable security convoys under the belief that someone important is in one of the vehicles.

A police officer said the bomb exploded at about 8:30 a.m. and lightly damaged one of the French Embassy’s three armoured SUVs in Baghdad’s commercial Karrada area.

Four Iraqi guards working for a private security company employed by the embassy and three civilian bystanders were wounded, the officer said. The French Foreign Ministry said no one in the convoy was hurt in the explosion.

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The violence was part of a series of attacks launched by militants in the capital during the Monday rush hour.

Around 7 a.m., gunmen in a speeding car firing pistols fitted with silencers killed a policeman in the southwestern Amil area, another police officer said.

Nearly an hour later, a parked car bomb targeted a passing police patrol in the northeastern Shaab neighbourhood, killing one policeman and wounding four others, a police officer said.

Also, three civilian bystanders were wounded in central Jadriyah when a roadside bomb missed a police patrol, police said.

Three hospital officials confirmed the casualties. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Monday’s meeting about the future of U.S. forces at Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Baghdad residence was attended by the prime minister, as well as senior Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians.

In a brief statement following the discussions, Talabani said another meeting will be held “soon” to come up with a unified political decision. He didn’t set a date. The country’s political situation and security situation were also discussed in the meeting, Talabani added, without giving further details.

Last month, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said American leaders asked Baghdad for an answer before August so they can start withdrawing soldiers and shutting down dozens of bases scattered across the country.

Few Iraqi politicians are willing to come out publicly in support of keeping U.S. troops in the country longer. Much of the Iraqi public harbours deep resentment toward the American government for the violence that unfolded after the invasion, and publicly supporting a troop extension could be political suicide for many political leaders.

Privately, many do support an extension. Sunni and Kurdish leaders are generally believed to want U.S. troops to remain. But hard-line Shiites who helped al-Maliki secure a second term in office last year have threatened to revolt if American soldiers stay past the year-end deadline.

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