Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group claimed responsibility for yesterday's suicide bombing in central Baghdad that killed 13 Iraqis and wounded 15...

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq group claimed responsibility for yesterday’s suicide bombing in central Baghdad that killed 13 Iraqis and wounded 15.

The blast took place as U.S. and Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents in the northern city of Mosul and in western Anbar province, where eight Marines were killed Saturday and Sunday.

The bomber detonated his explosives-packed car near vehicles waiting to enter the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraq’s interim government. No U.S. troops were injured.

In a posting on a Web site often used by Islamic radicals, al-Zarqawi’s group said it had targeted “a gathering of apostates and Americans in the Green Zone.” Insurgents label Iraqi Muslims traitors to their faith if they work for the United States or the interim Iraq government.

Also yesterday, in Tarmiyah, on Baghdad’s northern outskirts, three U.S. troops were wounded in a car bombing that wrecked two Humvees.

Early today, a car bomb exploded near the site of yesterday’s blast, killing seven people and wounding 13, a hospital official said.

The U.S. military said there were no American casualties.

McCain on Rumsfeld: Still “no confidence”

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. John McCain said yesterday that he has “no confidence” in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, citing Rumsfeld’s handling of the war in Iraq and the failure to send more troops.

McCain, in an hourlong interview with The Associated Press, said his comments were not a call for Rumsfeld’s resignation, explaining that President Bush “can have the team that he wants around him.”

Asked about his confidence in the secretary’s leadership, McCain recalled fielding a similar question a couple weeks ago.

“I said no. My answer is still no. No confidence,” said McCain, R-Ariz.

He estimated an additional 80,000 Army personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 more Marines would be needed to secure Iraq.

McCain, a decorated Navy veteran and former Vietnam prisoner of war, is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has oversight of military operations and influence over the Pentagon budget.

Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said Rumsfeld has “relied upon the judgment of the military commanders to determine what force levels are appropriate for the situation at hand.”

Iraq president wants U.N. help on vote

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq’s interim president demanded more help from the United Nations ahead of Jan. 30 elections, saying yesterday that poor security was no excuse for the world body to stay away.

The United Nations is advising Iraq’s electoral commission on the vote and recently increased the ceiling on its international staff in Baghdad from 35 to 59, including more than 20 election experts.

But U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said security remains a problem. Annan pulled all U.N. international staff out of Iraq in October 2003, after two bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, the first of which killed the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others.

Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer told the Al-Arabiya network he wasn’t satisfied with the U.N. response so far.

WTO to begin talks with Iraq, Afghanistan

GENEVA — The World Trade Organization (WTO) decided yesterday to begin membership talks with Iraq, opening the way for lengthy negotiations on terms for the country to join the 148-nation organization that sets the rules for global commerce.

The WTO’s ruling General Council agreed by consensus to accept the application by Iraq’s interim government, officials said.

The General Council also gave Afghanistan a green light to start membership talks.


Eight of Saddam Hussein‘s 11 top lieutenants — but not the former dictator himself — went on hunger strikes over the weekend to demand visits in jail from the International Committee of the Red Cross, but they were eating again by yesterday, a U.S. military spokesman said.