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Baghdad suicide blast kills 7

Attacks on rise ahead of vote on constitution

BAGHDAD -- A suicide bomber driving a minivan with passengers blew himself up near a bus depot in the center of the capital yesterday, killing seven people and wounding 20, police said.

The charred wreckage of the van smoldered in the hot sun, while Iraqi police hurried stunned onlookers away from the scene of the blast in Tayaran Square. The square, a main bus portal for travel within Baghdad, was crowded with people enjoying the Friday holiday. Blood pooled in the streets around the station, a simple, open-air transit point surrounded by a brick wall.

As insurgents in Iraq have stepped up attacks against large crowds of civilians gathered in public places in recent months, bus stations and markets have been frequent targets. A series of car bombs at the main bus station and nearby hospital in Baghdad in August killed more than 40 people.

Three American soldiers also died yesterday, the US military said in statements. Two were killed by roadside bombs, one near Balad, 70 miles north of Baghdad, and the other in southeast Baghdad, the statements said. The third soldier was killed by small arms fire in Ramadi, 65 miles west of the capital.

Meanwhile, in Mosul, 275 miles to the north, police discovered 10 corpses on Thursday night. Three of the bodies were identified as members of an ethnically based political party, the Turkmen Front, said Bahaa Aldin Bakri, a physician at Jumhouri Hospital.

The three Turkmen Front members were shot by armed men driving in a red Opel sedan in the Baladiyat neighborhood in eastern Mosul, Bakri said.

Also in Baghdad on Thursday night, a member of the de-Ba'athification committee, which vets government employees for ties to Saddam Hussein's now-outlawed Ba'ath Party, was assassinated, said Ali Lami, a senior member of the committee. Ali Abdul Ridha, a manager at the committee, was driving with his family in the Nafaq al-Shurta area of the city when he was assassinated by unknown armed men who pulled up alongside this vehicle.

Lami said another member of the committee who had been kidnapped was rescued by Iraqi security forces in the Ghazaliya neighborhood in western Baghdad, a stronghold for insurgents operating in Baghdad. An Australian hostage, Douglas Wood, was rescued there last June after being held for 47 days.

US and Iraqi officials have warned that violence is likely to increase leading up to the Oct. 15 referendum on a new constitution that will provide the framework for a new government.

On Thursday, Iraq's most influential religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, announced his support for the constitution through an aide in the holy city of Najaf. The Shi'ite Muslim leader's endorsement is essential to the success of the referendum, which some Sunni Muslims have vowed to try to defeat. Some Sunni politicians are upset about elements of the constitution that would create a federal state, preserving semiautonomy for ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq and possibly granting it to the majority Shi'ite south.

At the Sunni Um al-Qurraq Mosque in Baghdad yesterday, Sheikh Mahmoud Sumaidaie called for unity, appealing to Muslims in other parts of the Middle East to help stop the violence in Iraq.

''We are all facing these crises, but some are responding while others are complacent and unresponsive," he said. ''When will they wake up? . . . We want deeds, not words."

But he condemned the constitution as the ''American project here," and called for its defeat.

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