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Feature: Baghdad car bomb targets school

Iraqis look at a crater created following a car bomb in the northern city of Mosul, some 370 kms north of the capital Baghdad on November 11, 2008. Fifteen people were wounded in the car bomb attack against an Iraqi police patrol, according to the US military. Photo courtesy AFP.

Obama team sidesteps Gates speculation
Barack Obama's presidential transition team on Tuesday sidestepped a flurry of speculation that he would ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on in his administration. Gates has been praised in both parties for his role since taking over the job two years ago, and the Wall Street Journal cited two unnamed Obama advisers Tuesday as saying the president-elect was leaning towards keeping Gates. John Podesta, the co-chair of Obama's transition team told reporters that the incoming president had "great respect" for Gates, but would wait to hear the findings of experts he is sending to probe Defense Department operations. "We'll have a team that's going to the Pentagon that will be briefed about ongoing operations, ongoing programs ... he'll render judgment as a result of and after those briefings occur and he's had a chance to meet with his key advisers," Podesta said. The Journal also quoted an unnamed senior Pentagon official as saying that Gates despite oft repeated statements that he wants to return to private life, would accept any offer by Obama to stay on. Gates has said he pines for his property in western Washington state and carries a countdown clock marking the number of days left in the administration. Gates has won praise across the political aisle since taking over from controversial former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld two years ago. At the weekend, Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid backed the idea of the secretary remaining in the Pentagon under Obama. Gates has gone on record, like Obama, as supporting the deployment of more US troops to Afghanistan. But he spoken out against establishing a rigid timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Obama said during the campaign that he wanted to get most combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months but added that his promise was conditional on the situation on the ground in Iraq.

by Richard Tomkins
Baghdad (UPI) Nov 12, 2008
A car parked directly outside a combined middle school and high school in the Beida area of East Baghdad exploded Wednesday, injuring a yet-undetermined number of students and teachers and setting nearby vehicles alight.

The explosion occurred about 12:30 p.m. local time, about an hour before students were to be dismissed for lunch.

"I was in my room (in the interior of the school) when I heard the explosion and all the glass breaking," Halima Kazam told an American reporter. "All the children were against the walls or on the floor, screaming and crying and then trying to get out."

Halima, speaking through an interpreter, said the children were taken out through a gate on the opposite side of the building to avoid flames and smoke and the chance that there may have been a second bomb placed to kill first responders.

Jassim Khadam, a taxi driver living across the road from the school, said the car holding the bomb was parked nose-in to the school's perimeter next to an entrance mainly used by faculty.

"I came home for lunch about 10 minutes before the bombing," he said. "I saw the car and just thought it belonged to one of the teachers."

The exact number of casualties couldn't be immediately determined. People outside the school said only about five were hurt, but a school administrator said the number was 20. Five of them were staff at the combined middle school and high school facility.

When an American reporter arrived on the scene 20 minutes after the blast with Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel from the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 68 Armor Regiment, the injured had been taken away and fires caused by the bomb put out.

The scene was eerily quiet. Crowds stood and watched from a distance, kept at bay by U.S. troops and Iraqi police; the bomb vehicle -- its metal all pushed forward into a tangled ball -- smoldered as U.S. and Iraqi bomb experts combed debris for evidence. Nearby on either side of the bombing vehicle, and the hole in the pavement underneath where its trunk would have been, were cars that caught fire as a result of the blast and were destroyed.

Halima sat alone on a chair in the middle of the ground floor hallway of the school. She sat without moving, expressionless except for the look of shock and trauma.

The attack was the first using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in 90 days in the eastern portion of the battalion's 50-square-mile sector. That eastern portion is predominantly Shiite and close to Sadr City, where U.S. troops had battled extremists loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada Sadr in the spring. Sadr, in Iran, later officially disbanded his Mehdi Army militia, whose leaders fled to Iran. Leaders of Iranian-influenced Special Groups also left Sadr City for Iran, according to U.S. military sources.

In the western portion of the sector, which includes Sunni enclaves penetrated by al-Qaida and mixed sectarian areas such as Old Adhamiya, Mahgrib and Waziriyah, there have been six VBIEDs in 90 days, including one Monday in an area lined with cafes. Five people were killed in that attack and at least 34 injured, according to Iraqi and U.S. authorities. Initial news reports had put the death toll at 28.

The bombing Monday had all the hallmarks of al-Qaida: a VBIED, two smaller anti-personnel devices planted nearby to kill first responders and placement in an area crowded with civilians.

No responsibility has yet been claimed for Wednesday's attack at Beida School. Iraqi and U.S. investigators are still looking at evidence.

First word of the blast Wednesday came on a surveillance monitor at a U.S. base called Callahan, about a kilometer or less from the school. An explosion was seen by a camera that then zoomed in. As smoke billowed on the scene, people could be seen running and screaming.

"Tell the principal I'm going to come in and scope out the damage," Lt. Col. Michael Pappel said. "Tell him we want to get repairs done quickly, so the children can get back to classes."

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Iraq studies US-amended military pact as deadline looms
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 11, 2008
Iraq decided on Tuesday to await a complete translation of the amended draft of a military pact to govern the presence of US troops in the country after 2008 before making a final decision on it.

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