BAGHDAD, Iraq – A roadside bomb, apparently triggered by remote control, exploded Friday as a U.S. military convoy and a packed minibus passed each other near a mosque, killing an American soldier and at least three Iraqis in the deadliest attack in the capital in three weeks.

Ali Hamid, 28, was inside his cosmetics shop when he saw the three Humvees and the minibus. The bomb exploded between the first and second vehicles of the convoy, blowing out store windows and sending shrapnel flying in every direction.

“There was a big, black cloud of smoke,” said Hamid. “People were terrified and running in different directions.”

At least 16 Iraqis were wounded, many of them passengers in the minibus, police said.

The blast came on the same day as an announcement that 16 countries, including the United States, would insure payment of up to $2.4 billion worth of exports to Iraq, which they hope will encourage multinational companies to invest and do business there.

Also on Friday, President Bush named former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a family friend, to head the task of reducing Iraq’s foreign debt of up to $200 billion. The yearly interest charges alone are $7 billion to $8 billion.

In a statement read by White House press secretary Scott McClellan to reporters in Washington, Bush said, “The future of the Iraqi people should not be mortgaged to the enormous burden of debt incurred to enrich Saddam Hussein’s regime.”

But Friday’s attack was a reminder of how difficult it will be to persuade foreign investors and companies to do business in Iraq.

The death of the American soldier brought to 190 the number of U.S. troops killed in action since Bush declared major combat over on May 1. Scores of Iraqis also have been killed. Insurgents increasingly have targeted civilians and those they suspect are collaborating with the coalition.

The last time an American soldier was killed in Baghdad was on Nov. 15, also by a roadside bomb.

U.S. military officials say raids and sweeps on possible guerrilla hideouts in Baghdad have reduced the number of attacks on U.S. troops.

“We’d like to think we are making an effect, but the enemy has the final vote on whether he wants to attack again,” said Brig Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition’s top military spokesman. “All we can do is continue to use actionable intelligence to go after him to stop him before that next attack.”

At the site of Friday’s blast, someone covered up a large patch of thick, spilled blood with a piece of cardboard.

Mustafa Jawad, 29, had just left his uncle on the sidewalk when the blast shook the earth around 9.15 a.m., he said. He rushed back.

His uncle, Ali Hasoon, was writhing on the ground, his arm nearly severed. Jawad picked him up and carried him to a police pickup that took him to a hospital.

“This all started when the Americans came here,” said Mohammed Ali, 52, a cousin of Hasoon, as he waited for a doctor to amputate Hasoon’s arm.

(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): James Baker

AP-NY-12-05-03 1632EST

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