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Car Bomb Explodes Outside Baghdad Police HQ

Car Bomb Explodes Outside Baghdad Police HQ

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A car bomb exploded near the headquarters of U.S.-trained police in Baghdad Tuesday, wounding many bystanders, a day after a roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers. Another U.S. soldier was killed in a helicopter crash south of Baghdad.

The bloodshed came as hundreds of thousands of mourners converged for the funeral of a slain religious leader who had urged Iraqis to be patient with the American occupiers. The cleric's son warned Iraq was entering a new, more dangerous era.

Witnesses said many people were wounded in the Baghdad blast, one seriously, but Iraqi police Maj. Bassal al-Ani told The Associated Press there were no fatalities. There was little damage to the police building.

No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack. Al-Ani said he could not blame any group "until the investigation is complete."

He also said there were a few U.S. military police in a nearby academy as trainers for Iraqi police. None of the Americans were hurt, he said.

Huge plumes of black smoke rose above the scene and U.S. military police and Iraqi police cordoned off the area.

One man, who had a shrapnel wound in his left arm, said he saw a hand lying in the road.

"There was debris blown everywhere," said Raad Majid, 27, who was about 30 yards away when the blast occurred.

Acting Baghdad police chief Hassan al-Obeidi has offices in the headquarters building and is closely associated with the U.S.-led occupation authority, especially former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who put al-Obeidi in his position. Kerik has been in Iraq to rebuild the country's police force.

Al-Obeidi was shot in the leg at the end of July during a weapons raid in downtown Baghdad. The day after the raid, he moved a bed into his office so he could continue to command the police force.

The police headquarters is not far from the Iraqi Interior Ministry building.

Also Tuesday, a Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter crashed south of Baghdad, killing one U.S. soldier and injuring another. The accident took place at around 12:30 a.m. and was a "non-hostile" incident, said Spc. Anthony Reinoso.

On Monday, two soldiers from the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion of the 220th Military Police Brigade were killed when a bomb went off beside their convoy in southern Iraq. Another soldier was wounded.

The U.S. military provided no other details. In all, 286 U.S. soldiers have died in the Iraq war, 148 since the end of heavy fighting.

On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of mourners streamed into the holy city of Najaf for the funeral of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, a moderate cleric killed in a bombing on Friday.

Guards in white robes and dark uniforms stood every few yards along the roof of Najaf's golden, domed Imam Ali shrine. Black banners of mourning were draped across the mosque.

Police on loud speakers implored the crowds jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets to allow the truck carrying the ceremonial coffin to pass. Despite their efforts, the truck was unable to make it to the entrance of the mosque.

Pumps sprayed water on the mourners after some fainted from the heat.

The bombing that killed al-Hakim on Friday was the country's bloodiest attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein. There are varying accounts of how many people died, ranging from more than 80 to more than 120.

"My believing brothers, the sons of Iraq, our injured Iraq is facing great and dangerous challenges in which one requires strength," the ayatollah's son, Mohammed Hussein Mohammed Saeed Al-Hakim said as the funeral procession made one of its final stops before Najaf in the town of Hilla.

"I call on you to hold on to this unity and help each other ... (through this) new period," he said.

The funeral procession started in Baghdad on Sunday and wove its way through Hilla and the second holiest city of Karbala before nearing Najaf for the funeral ceremony.

Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida, on Tuesday denied any role in the Najaf bombing, an attack on the Jordanian Embassy on Aug. 7, or the U.N. headquarters 12 days later.

"I consider it very unlikely that members of Ansar al-Islam committed such big and grave acts," Mullah Krekar, the group's spiritual leader, told Al-Jazeera television. He added his group's Islamic convictions prevent them from striking such targets.

The report further muddled the issue of who could have perpetrated the attack.

The CIA said Monday it was examining a audiotape recording in which a man claiming to be Saddam denied he was behind the Najaf bombing. Al-Hakim was a longtime opponent of Saddam who returned from exile after the U.S. invasion.

The voice on the tape appeared to be that of Saddam and employed his well-known rhetorical flourishes.

"Many of you may have heard the snakes hissing, the servants of the invaders, occupiers, infidels, and how they have managed to accuse the followers of Saddam Hussein of responsibility for the attack on al-Hakim without any evidence," said the tape, broadcast by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite television station and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.

While denying a role in the Najaf bombing, the voice made no mention of the Jordanian Embassy bombing or the U.N. headquarters attack, which investigators suspect may have also been committed by Saddam followers.

Some Iraqi police officials leading the investigation of the bombing have said they believe al-Qaida linked Islamic militants were behind the Najaf attack -- not Saddam loyalists.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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