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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bomber Strikes Baghdad Restaurant

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A suicide bomber killed at least 13 people and injured at least 17 when he blew himself up Sunday in a downtown Baghdad restaurant frequented by police. The attack came as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged to soon fill vacancies in his two key security ministries.

The attack against the Safar restaurant was part of a spree of roadside bombs, mortar rounds and a drive-by shootings that killed at least 18 Iraqis and wounded dozens.

Al-Maliki's new government met for the first time after it was inaugurated and the prime minister hopes it will eventually improve Iraq's military and police forces, persuade the insurgents to lay down its weapons and disband militias, reduce sectarian violence and restore stability to Iraq.

If that can be done, and there is no certainty that it can, it would set the stage for the eventual withdrawal of tens of thousands of U.S. and other foreign troops.

But political infighting left three important Cabinet posts temporarily filled -- the defense ministry, which controls Iraq's army; the interior ministry, which is responsible for police; and the ministry of state for security affairs, which plays an advisory role.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has said he is determined to soon find independent, nonsectarian officials to fill those three portfolios in his government.

The prime minister said his government would use "maximum force in confronting the terrorists and the killers who are shedding blood" in Iraq.

But he also said it would try to reduce public support for insurgent groups by promoting national reconciliation, improving the country's collapsing infrastructure, and setting up a special protection force for Baghdad, one of Iraq's most violent cities. He said Baghdad "must end its crisis of sectarian violence that is causing many families to flee their homes."

The at least 12 dead in the restaurant attack included three police officers, said Police Colonel Abbas Mohammed. The Safar restaurant was located in a two-story building in Baghdad's mixed Karradah neighborhood and the explosion occurred during the crowded lunch hour.

Al-Maliki's national unity government took office Saturday, five months after the election of Iraq's parliament and following prolonged bitter wrangling over the Cabinet posts.

The new permanent government has been portrayed by Western officials as the best hope for changing the dynamics of violence in Iraq.

U.S. President George W. Bush, who is facing rising criticism at home over Iraq, welcomed the new Cabinet and promised continued U.S. help.