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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Allawi Escapes Al-Qaida Attack

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Al-Qaida in Iraq, the country's most feared terror group, claimed responsibility Thursday for a suicide car bombing that targeted interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's convoy but did not harm the Iraqi leader.

In a separate attack, a roadside bomb exploded on the highway leading to Baghdad's airport Thursday, heavily damaging three SUVs carrying civilians. Police Captain Hamid Ali said two foreigners were killed and three wounded in the burning vehicles. But U.S. Embassy and military officials could not confirm the casualties.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Defense Ministry identified 19 bullet-riddled bodies found Wednesday in a stadium northwest of the capital as fishermen, not soldiers as initially rumored.

Investigations indicated the men had come from the southern Diwaniya and Najaf provinces to fish in Tharthar lake when they were captured by insurgents and taken to the stadium at nearby Haditha, said Saleh Sarhan, the ministry's chief spokesman. He did not say how the victims had been identified or why they might have been captured.

Iraq has seen a week of stepped-up violence, much of it in the capital, as political leaders struggle to agree a new Cabinet from the country's complex mix of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds nearly three months after Iraqis elected a 275-seat National Assembly.

The attack against Allawi's convoy came on a day of multiple bombings and shootings in the embattled capital and elsewhere that killed at least 13 people and wounded 21.

They included an Australian security contractor and two other foreign nationals who died when unidentified assailants fired at their vehicle in Baghdad, Australian officials said in Sydney on Thursday.

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for several of the attacks, including the one on Allawi, in statements that surfaced on web sites known for their militant content. "Allawi escaped, but if one arrow missed its target, there are many others in the quiver," one of the statements said.

Interim President Jalal Talabani also announced Wednesday the recovery of more than 50 bodies from the Tigris River, saying the discovery was proof of claims that dozens were abducted from an area south of the capital despite a fruitless search by Iraqi forces.

Talabani did not say when or where the 50 bodies were pulled from the river, but he said all had been identified as hostages.

n A Russian-built commercial helicopter was shot down north of Baghdad on Thursday, killing the six American passengers and three Bulgarian crew members aboard, sources at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said, Reuters reported.

The attack, believed to be the first downing of a civilian aircraft in Iraq, put further pressure on Iraqi leaders struggling to form a government nearly three months after elections.

The Mi-8 helicopter, which has both commercial and military uses, was flying near the town of Tarmiya, about 40 km north of Baghdad, when it was hit by ground fire, possibly by a rocket-propelled grenade, U.S. military sources said.