Bombings in Baghdad, Mosul Kill 12 Iraqis

A pair of car bombings killed at least a dozen people and wounded dozens of others in Baghdad and Mosul today, in the latest rounds of violence that appeared to be directed at Iraqi government officials.

The attacks occurred as abductors freed two Iraqi guards who were kidnapped Monday, but an American and three other people also kidnapped were still held, according to the Associated Press.

Today, a suicide car bomber crashed into a concrete barrier protecting the Ministry of Education in a popular commercial area known as the Azamiyah district. The explosion killed at least eight people, and wounded 29 others, authorities said.

In the northern city of Mosul, more than 200 miles from Baghdad, Gen. Rashid Feleih, commander of a special task force in the Iraqi Army narrowly avoided what police described as an assassination attempt. He was unhurt.

But four civilians were killed and seven soldiers were wounded in the car bombing that took place as a military convoy passed by, officials said.

The attacks came one day after gunmen shot their way into a business office in the upscale neighborhood of Mansour in Baghdad and overwhelmed guards, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. The gunman abducted an American and at least three other people, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

The kidnappings, the latest in a series of increasingly bold and well-orchestrated abductions, came as American forces hammered suspected militant strongholds in the city of Fallouja with artillery in advance of an expected offensive.

At least one of the kidnappers was killed, along with an office guard. A second American who was at the office reportedly escaped during the melee.

The names of those abducted and the Saudi company where the abductions occurred were not immediately available.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said four or five people had been kidnapped. Iraqi police told AP that six people had been taken: the American, a Nepalese and four Iraqi guards.

Police and a witness told the news service that at least 20 gunmen, some dressed in traditional Arab robes, stormed the offices during iftar, the evening meal in which Muslims break their daylight fast during the month of Ramadan.

Bombings and kidnappings have become increasingly frequent in the wealthy neighborhood of large homes and well-groomed yards.

In September, militants seized two Americans and a Briton from their offices in the area. All three were later beheaded. Followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi claimed responsibility for their deaths.

On Monday, Robert J. Callahan, the U.S. Embassy spokesman, said the taking of so many hostages Monday marked a troubling precedent. "I don't recall four or five being kidnapped at once before," Callahan said.

More than 160 foreigners have been taken hostage this year in Iraq. At least 34 of them have been killed.

Times staff writers Alissa J. Rubin and Daryl Strickland in Los Angeles and special correspondent Raheem Salman in Baghdad and a special correspondent in Fallouja contributed to this report, along with the Associated Press.