At least 14 people were killed and 75 wounded in a car bomb attack on the convoy of Iraq's industry minister on Wednesday, Interior Ministry sources said.
Minister Fawzi al-Hariri, a Kurd, was not in the convoy when it was attacked in central Baghdad, but two of his bodyguards were among those killed, said Industry Ministry spokeswoman Dhuha Mohammed.
The attack came as the U.S. military reported that roadside bombings in Baghdad were "at an all-time high" and that more car bombs had been defused or detonated in the capital in the past week than at any other time this year. They gave no firm figures.
The military has been trying to build up Iraq's army and police force to combat the violence, but their efforts have been bedeviled by allegations that the police have been infiltrated by sectarian militia and often turn a blind eye to atrocities committed by members of their own religious group.
U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said the police brigade responsible for Baghdad's southern districts had been "pulled off-line" for retraining after Sunday's mass kidnapping of mainly Sunni Muslim factory workers in the Amil district.
The car bomb hit the industry minister's convoy in the capital's Karrada district in the Christian neighborhood of Camp Sara, police said. Mangled wreckage lay on the road and the fronts of shops were blown out, witnesses said.
Insurgents fighting the Shi'ite-led national unity government have frequently targeted government ministers.
Another car bomb killed one person in Baghdad's restive Dora district.
Caldwell said the number of attacks had increased in Baghdad in past weeks "as expected," but that while the number of casualties was up in September, it "did not increase in proportion to the number of attacks."
"The overall effectiveness of the attacks and the enemy's ability to inflict casualties has decreased and has been decreasing since the June period," he said in Baghdad.
U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED
Insurgents shot dead two U.S. soldiers on Tuesday, the U.S. military said on Wednesday. One was killed in Baghdad and the other near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The deaths brought to 17 the number of U.S. soldiers killed since Saturday. [2727 U.S. military deaths since the beginning of the war 19 March 2003 source]
Caldwell said it had been a "hard week" for the U.S. military, which hopes to turn over more and more control of Iraqi territory to Iraq's security forces to enable it to begin withdrawing its more than 140,000 troops.
But Sunnis accuse the Iraqi police of giving cover to some of the sectarian hit squads blamed for the surge in Sunni-Shi'ite bloodshed that has raised fears of civil war.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said a regimental commander of the 8th Iraqi Police Brigade, 2nd Division, was arrested on Tuesday for negligence and failing to report the mass kidnapping of mainly Sunni factory workers on Sunday.
Caldwell said the brigade, responsible for policing the capital's southern districts, had been recalled immediately for "anti-militia, anti-sectarian and national unity training."
"This brigade's past performance has not demonstrated the level of professionalism sought by the Interior Ministry."
In another sign of an apparent crackdown on sectarian killings, U.S. troops arrested 10 Iraqi soldiers in Diyala Province suspected of death squad killings, an Iraqi army colonel said.
The colonel, who asked not to be named, said the 10 had guarded Brigadier Shakir al-Kaabi, head of the 5th Iraqi Army Division. The U.S. military could not be reached for comment.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has launched a four-point plan to try to end sectarian violence in Iraq. The plan, agreed by top Shi'ite and Sunni politicians late on Monday, hopes to halt communal fighting by allowing mixed "security committees" to patrol Baghdad.
Additional reporting by Aseel Kami and Ross Colvin