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Rocket blasts kill 3 in Green Zone

Intense barrage shakes key area

US soldiers passed an Iraqi boy as they patrolled central Baghdad yesterday. At least 46 people died in explosions, shootings, and other violence across Iraq yesterday. US soldiers passed an Iraqi boy as they patrolled central Baghdad yesterday. At least 46 people died in explosions, shootings, and other violence across Iraq yesterday. (ali yussef/afp/getty images)

BAGHDAD -- At least 20 mortar rounds and Katyusha rockets struck the fortified Green Zone yesterday afternoon, killing an American service member and two other people in an attack on the heart of US and Iraqi government facilities in the capital.

The other two killed were an Iraqi and a person of unknown nationality, according to a statement from the US Embassy. About 18 people were injured, including two US military personnel and three American contract employees, the statement said.

Brigadier General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, said 20 mortar shells and rockets had struck, while another source in the ministry put the number of blasts at more than 30.

The Green Zone, also known as the International Zone, is home to the US Embassy, Iraqi Parliament, and other American and Iraqi government offices. It covers about four square miles in central Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River.

Iraqi police said the attack, the most intense in recent months, targeted the embassy, Ibn Sina Hospital, and the homes of Iraqi officials. Moments earlier, a duck-and-cover order had contractors, embassy staff, and soldiers crouching in concrete bunkers, part of the new Green Zone security routines that also include lengthier vehicle searches.

A US Embassy spokesman said that he could not confirm whether the embassy was a target and that the frequent attacks on the Green Zone are not a barometer of the security situation in the capital.

"There's fire into the Green Zone virtually every day, so I can't draw any conclusions about the security situation based on that," he said.

United Nations staff members have temporarily relocated to a different compound within the Green Zone and are calling for construction of a stronger building capable of withstanding the barrages. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon experienced an attack firsthand during a televised visit to the Green Zone in March, and appeared shaken by the explosion.

UN and US military leaders acknowledged last month that militants are increasingly targeting the area. There were about 39 attacks in May compared with 17 in March, according to a UN report. In addition to mortar and rocket attacks, the Green Zone was shaken April 12 by a suicide bombing in the Iraqi Parliament building that killed two Sunni Arab legislators and six others.

Yesterday's attack occurred the same day gunmen kidnapped Iraqi police Colonel Mahmoud Muhyi Hussein, who directs security inside the Green Zone, as he was driving in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriya. There was no word on his fate late in the day.

Also yesterday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet unveiled plans to spend $10 million on recovery efforts in the northern town of Amerli, where a massive suicide bomb killed 150 people Sunday and wounded at least 250.

The money will go to victims' families, to compensate business owners, and to help rebuild , according to a Cabinet statement.

Maliki's Cabinet also ordered the ministries of defense and interior to secure the highway that runs north from Baghdad through Amerli to Kirkuk and to pursue militants who have fled into the northern province surrounding Amerli. The Cabinet plans to form an emergency administrative unit to respond to future large-scale attacks, the statement said.

Meanwhile yesterday, at least 46 violent deaths were reported around the country. In Baghdad, police reported finding the bodies of 23 people tortured and slain.