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Rare suicide blasts near Baghdad’s Green Zone kill 11

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BAGHDAD — The first major attack in months at an entrance to the heavily fortified Green Zone killed 11 and wounded at least 19 on Monday as talk in the capital increased about whether Iraqi leaders would ask U.S. troops to stay beyond a year-end deadline to leave.

Suicide bombers simultaneously detonated two cars packed with explosives at a security checkpoint crowded with Iraqi parliament staffers. Iraqi police said the attacks appeared to be targeted at convoys carrying Iraqi defense and political leaders, including a military commander who survived the second attempt on his motorcade this month.

The speaker of the Iraqi parliament said the other blast seemed to be aimed at one of his advisers. The adviser also survived, but six Iraqi army officers and bodyguards for both dignitaries were killed, as were the two bombers.

The four-square-mile green zone houses the largest U.S. embassy in the world and thousands of American soldiers and contractors. None was injured in Monday’s attack. The gate where the bombings occurred is most frequently used by Iraqi politicians and military officers and their staffs and by the Iraqi media.

The attacks heightened tensions in the Iraqi parliament after visits to Baghdad in the last two weeks by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). On Monday, it seemed those visits had provided an opening for at least some new public discussion among Iraqi officials about whether to extend an agreement to allow U.S. troops to remain in the country next year.

All American soldiers are supposed to leave Iraq by Dec. 31, but Gates said the United States would consider any request to extend its military presence in the country. Whether Iraq makes such a request is almost entirely up to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who could face a domestic political backlash for doing so.

Since Gates’s visit, Maliki has faced renewed pressure from Iranian-backed Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr not to negotiate an extension. Sadr has threatened that his Mahdi Army, which contributed heavily to the bloodiest days of the Iraq war, could be reenergized if U.S. troops don’t leave as planned.

But lawmakers with the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc made cautious pronouncements Monday that some new agreement should be worked out before the end of the year, though they did not call outright call for U.S. troops to stay.

The newspaper Asharq al-Awsat also wrote that Maliki’s statements on the topic had been cryptic and had created a sense of “mystery” about whether American troops might stay.

Speaking to reporters, Iraqi parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi also criticized the Maliki-led government for failing for nearly four months to name ministers of defense or interior, saying the openings have created a vacuum atop the country’s important security ministries. The Interior Ministry oversees the police force.

Lt. Col. Hamid Mashkoor, who is in charge of security at the al-Harthiya gate where the blasts occurred, said the military commander from the mostly Sunni Muslim Abu Ghraib area south of the capital appeared to be the primary target of Monday’s attack. He survived an attack earlier in April.

Maj. Gen.l Ahmed E.G. al-Saedy, a Shiite, was in an armored convoy near the lead vehicle when it detonated.

In a statement on his Web site, Nujaifi identified the adviser who was near the second blast as Amjad Abul-Hamid Alduree.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

After the early-morning Green Zone incident, violence seemed unrelenting in Baghdad on Monday with two roadside bombs, two more stuck on vehicles of local officials and bloody attacks on both a jewelry store and a police checkpoint. Two shop owners were killed and eight others, including a former member of Iraq’s governing council, were injured in those attacks.

Baghdad’s bloody day followed a turn toward violence Sunday in the country’s Kurdish north.

Hospital officials in Sulaimaniya said 50 demonstrators were injured in clashes with security forces, including seven who had suffered gunshot wounds.

Special correspondent Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.

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