The white Caprice rolled down an ordinary street on an otherwise ordinary Saturday in an unremarkable manner until it got close to the house of senior Iraqi official Abdul-Jabbar Youssef Sheikhli and began to zigzag.
Ameer Ali, Sheikhli's next-door neighbor, was about to pull his sedan into the street and drive his three nieces to school when he spotted the car. The next few moments were a blur: The flash, the noise as the car exploded beside Sheikhli's house, wounding the official and his wife and killing four civilians.
Sheikhli, a deputy minister in Iraq's Interior Ministry, which is responsible for police and security, appeared to be the target of what officials called a suicide blast, the second in a week aimed at a top Iraqi government official. A suicide car bombing Monday killed the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Izzedin Salim, outside the fortified headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition. Both Salim and Sheikhli were members of the Shiite Dawa party.
U.S. authorities have warned of a surge in violence as the June 30 deadline approaches to hand over limited governing authority to Iraq. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the senior military spokesman in Iraq, said the attack against Sheikhli was "characteristic of what we've seen."
Overall, 11 people were injured in the bombing, witnesses said, including Ali's nieces, who were in the car with him, and three students at a high school about a quarter of a mile from the blast site.
"I didn't see who was driving, but it was a big explosion, smoke and fire, and body pieces started hitting the walls of my house," said Ali, 38, a government employee.
Kimmitt said no group had claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened at 7:50 a.m. But Iraqi satellite television reported Saturday night that a group linked to al Qaeda and led by Abu Musab Zarqawi had claimed it was behind the bombing.
Meanwhile, Iraqi political leaders who have been working with the U.S. occupation authority expressed anger over raids this week that targeted Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council and once favored by the Pentagon to run postwar Iraq.
After a meeting that began Friday and lasted until early Saturday, the council issued a statement supporting Chalabi. This came two days after Iraqi police backed by U.S. soldiers raided his home and the offices of his Iraqi National Congress, a coalition of parties that opposed the government of former president Saddam Hussein. An Iraqi judge said the police were seeking the arrest of at least eight members of the INC on charges of kidnapping, torture, fraud and other "associated matters."
In the hours after the raids, some council members said they were considering suspending their participation on the panel, a step short of resignation, but none has done so.
The statement said the council "failed to find justification for the intrusion which undermines the values that respect man, safeguards his dignity, and bans the violation of homes."
"The Council condemns and denounces this action, calls for respecting the law and the sanctity of political institutions and patriotic figures, and declares its total solidarity with Dr. Chalabi," the statement said.
Also Saturday, Kimmitt said there was no evidence that a group attacked by U.S. forces in western Iraq on Wednesday had attended a wedding, as reported by Iraqi witnesses. He said the dead were mostly young men and none carried identification -- an indication, he said, that the gathering was a meeting of forces opposed to the U.S.-led occupation. Kimmitt confirmed that six women died in the attack but said no children had been killed.
"There may have been some kind of celebration," he said. "Bad people have parties, too."
Kimmitt said U.S. soldiers discovered 300 sets of bedding, 100 sets of packaged clothing consistent with what someone would wear as an Iraqi civilian, a medical examination table, guns, machines for making identification cards, foreign passports and a bag containing a white substance that appeared to be cocaine.
Kimmitt acknowledged that inconsistencies remained between the U.S. account and video coverage from the Associated Press Television Network that contained images of fresh graves and corpses, including several children. He said the investigation would continue.
The force of the suicide bombing Saturday blew out the windows of the Sheikhli house, mangled the front door and fried palm trees in the yard.
In the garden, two vehicles had flipped upside down and were blackened by fire. A pair of children's swings had melted from the heat of the blast. Water had collected in large pools after the bomb burst pipelines.
Three of the people killed were civilian guards employed by Sheikhli. Several of his neighbors said they did not like having such a prominent official and the guards in their neighborhood.
"The guards got the attention of the terrorists and were targeted by those terrorists or criminals," said Ali, the neighbor. "That's why we were not feeling comfortable living here."
Neighbors estimated that Sheikhli employed up to 20 guards at the house, which belonged to his sister.
He had moved to the house three months ago from a neighborhood with a heavier police presence. The police made him feel unsafe, his neighbors recalled Sheikhli as saying.
Correspondent Scott Wilson and special correspondent Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.