A suicide car bomber has killed nine people in a convoy carrying an Iraqi government minister in central Baghdad. At least 20 others were injured after the bomber slammed his car into the escort. Iraq’s Labour Minister Mahmoud Jawad Radhi escaped unhurt, officials say. The attack comes as US troops prepare to handover the province of Babil to Iraqi forces later today. South of Baghdad, Babil is the 12th of 18 provinces to pass back into Iraqi control.
Meanwhile, negotiations between Baghdad and Washington over a pact to allow US troops to stay in the country until 2011 continue to drag on. Iraq’s government is believed to be seeking further changes to the deal. On Tuesday, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates expressed ‘Great reluctance’ to renegotiate, saying the door was nearly closed. Gates warned failure to conclude the Status of Forces agreement or renew the current UN mandate would force US troops to stop operating.