Two bomb blasts shook the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, including four American security contractors traveling in a U.S. diplomatic convoy.
The first attack came in the morning, when a makeshift bomb was detonated as the U.S. convoy was traveling in the city, according to a statement by U.S. Embassy spokesman Peter Mitchell in Baghdad.
One vehicle careened off a bridge after the explosion, said Lt. Col. Kareem Zoubaidi, a Basra police spokesman. Other cars in the convoy were not damaged, he said.
Three of the contractors died at the scene and a fourth at a nearby hospital. All four worked for Triple Canopy, a Virginia-based company that performs security work for the regional U.S. Embassy office in Basra.
Triple Canopy identified the slain employees as Ronald Hyatt of Calera, Ala.; Robert McCoy of Refugio, Texas; Robert Pole of Miller Place, N.Y.; and Ryan Young of Lewisburg, Tenn.
According to the company's website, many of its workers are former members of U.S. military special operations units.
Hours after the bombing of the U.S. convoy, a remote-controlled car bomb was detonated near a cluster of restaurants and shops in the city, killing 13 people and wounding 20, said 1st Lt. Sabah Mayahi of the Basra police. Many of the victims were patrons having a late dinner in the cooler evening temperatures.
The blast set four other cars ablaze, and one exploded, causing additional injuries.
"We all rushed to the site, but then the gas tank of one of the cars exploded," said Hassan Ahmed Radhi, 28, who had been buying bread at a nearby store.
Basra has seen relatively few of the insurgent attacks that have beset other Iraqi cities since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but there have been occasional incidents. Two British soldiers were killed Tuesday 12 miles south of Basra when their Land Rover hit a roadside bomb.
Violence continued elsewhere in Iraq on Wednesday. Armed men swarmed a checkpoint near Khalis, a town north of Baghdad near Baqubah, killing four Iraqi national guard officers and wounding seven.
Militants carrying rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and hand grenades approached the Iraqi army outpost from several directions in the coordinated afternoon attack, said Lt. Ahmed Subhi of the Diyala provincial police.
In the capital, a director-general in the Defense Ministry, Hadi Hassan Omran, was assassinated Wednesday when gunmen in two cars attacked his vehicle.
The U.S. military announced that a soldier died in an accident Wednesday at Camp Taqaddum, west of Baghdad.
Special correspondent Othman Ghanim contributed to this report.