Americans Among Dead in Iraq Blast

Four Americans were among at least nine people killed in a bomb blast at a municipal government office in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood on Tuesday. The U.S. military blamed Iran-backed Shiite militants for the bombing.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. In Baghdad today, four Americans and six Iraqi civilians were killed when a bomb exploded inside the local district council building.

The Americans were in the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City to attend the election of a new head of the city council. Until a month ago, the area had been the scene of fierce fighting between Shiite militiamen and the U.S. and Iraqi troops. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Baghdad.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The blast took place just after nine in the morning, as members of the local council and the American delegation were gathering. Ahmad Jassen Abdul Hussein(ph) works in a stationery shop across the street from the council building.

Mr. AHMAD JASSEN ABDUL HUSSEIN (Stationary Shop Worker): (Through translator) There was a big explosion inside the city council, and people started running. The Americans came and begin shooting in the air, so we hid. Then came the ambulances and the firefighters. We saw smoke coming out of the building.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: According to the U.S. military, the blast was caused by a bomb that had been planted inside the office of the council's deputy chief. Colonel Steve Stover(ph) with the U.S. military told NPR that it consisted of about three to five pounds of an unknown bulk explosive.

In a statement, the military said one man was arrested as he was fleeing the scene. He tested positive for explosive residue. According to Colonel Stover, two other suspects were also detained.

Sadr City policeman Kamal Abbas(ph) told NPR that the Americans rounded up everyone who had been inside or near the building for questioning. Into the afternoon, the area was encircled by U.S. soldiers lying down in firing positions.

The U.S. military says the attack was carried out by what it calls special groups, its name for Shiite militants it says are trained, funded and armed by Iran.

Two of the Americans killed today were soldiers. The other two were civilians working respectively for the Department of Defense and the State Department.

In a statement, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker named one of the dead. Steve Farley was a member of the provincial reconstruction team for Sadr City. A fifth Department of Defense civilian employee, an Italian of Iraqi origin, was also killed.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was informed of the attack shortly after it occurred and spoke with Ambassador Crocker. Rice has been pushing the diplomatic corps here to get out into the field more to help strengthen local governance, despite the continuing dangers.

Yesterday, two U.S. soldiers were killed and three more were wounded when a gunman opened fire during another municipal council meeting southeast of Baghdad. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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