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Nine die in Baghdad rush-hour bombing

A BOMB tore through a minibus during morning rush hour yesterday in a mainly Shiite area of Baghdad, killing at least nine people and wounding 24, Iraqi officials said.

The blast was a grim reminder of the major challenge facing Iraqi forces three weeks ahead of the June 30 deadline for United States troops to withdraw from urban areas.

The bomb was attached to the minibus in the southern area of Abu Dshir, a Shiite enclave in the mainly Sunni neighborhood of Dora, police said.

"A ball of fire rose into the sky. We saw a minibus thrown about 5 meters into the air, then came down in flames," said Omar Abdul-Ghafar, a university student who was waiting with his friend for another bus.

The explosion left a crater at the entrance of the bus station where commuters were gathered to catch rides to different parts of the city.

Security forces sealed off the area while ambulances rushed the wounded to the hospital.

Police and hospital officials said 24 people were wounded. An Interior Ministry official said all those killed had been passengers on the bus while the wounded were bystanders waiting nearby.

Both districts have faced brutal sectarian bloodshed in past years but have seen a sharp decline in violence following a Sunni revolt against insurgent groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq and a Shiite militia cease-fire.

US-Iraqi forces also increased their presence and cordoned areas off with concrete walls and checkpoints in the citywide push to quell the violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

With the decline in violence, Iraqi authorities have taken down many of the concrete walls in a bid to restore a sense of normalcy in the capital.

But several recent high-profile bombings have raised concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi government spokesman said four Americans, not five, had been detained in an investigation into the killing last month of a US contractor in the Green Zone.

Ali al-Dabbagh said four Americans and one Iraqi were picked up on Wednesday during a raid on the Corporate Training Unlimited house. The raid was ordered after a tip-off that a suspect involved in last month's stabbing of contractor Jim Kitterman might be there, he said.


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