BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Two British contractors guarding a consulate convoy were killed Saturday by a roadside bomb in southern Iraq, and assailants in military garb tried to assassinate a prominent Sunni Arab leader.

A car bomb exploded near the National Theater in Baghdad, killing seven people, including three policemen, police and witnesses said.

The blast also wounded 25, including three policemen, a mother and her two young children, they said. The children did not appear seriously hurt.

Also, members of the committee writing Iraq’s new constitution said major differences remain only two weeks before the deadline for parliament to approve the draft. A Sunni member said some issues may remain unresolved until after the December elections.

The bombing on the British diplomatic convoy took place on Basra’s outskirts, killing the two security contractors who worked for the British security firm Control Risks Group, the Foreign Office said.

Two Iraqi children were seriously wounded when a second device exploded five minutes after the convoy was targeted, police Capt. Mushtaq Kadim said.

Britain has some 8,500 troops in Iraq, mostly in the south. The British military headquarters is based in Basra, where Britain also has a consulate general’s office with about 20 employees.

Control Risks Group describes itself on its Web site as an international business risk consultancy, specializing in helping clients operate in “complex or hostile environments.” The company employs some 500 contractors in Iraq, and only one has been killed, in an attack some 15 months ago, a spokeswoman said.

Sheik Khalaf Elaayan, head of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni political group with members on the constitutional drafting committee, was in his car Saturday when gunmen wearing military uniforms like those “used by members of the Iraqi army” drove up alongside and opened fire, he told The Associated Press.

Elaayan’s bodyguard was wounded in the attack, which took place near an Iraqi army checkpoint, he said.

“I was surprised that the soldiers did not react or come to help us although the checkpoint was less than 100 meters from where the attack took place,” he said.

Sunni leaders have accused the Shiite-led government of sanctioning attacks by Shiite military forces against the Sunni community.

Two weeks ago, a Sunni member of the constitutional committee was assassinated in Baghdad, as were a Sunni committee adviser and a bodyguard. Mijbil Issa’s death prompted a weeklong walkout by his Sunni colleagues, who only returned to the committee process after being promised additional security.

The U.S. leadership has placed high hopes that a constitution will lay the foundation for a broad-based government. The charter faces an Aug. 15 deadline to be approved by the National Assembly, and then goes to a public referendum in October.

Committee members say more than 90 percent of the document is complete. But the toughest issues, including federalism, the role of Islam and even the country’s name remain in dispute. Some committee members said it’s unlikely the issues will be resolved before the August deadline.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government on Saturday confirmed the firing of one of the few top Sunni officials to urge Sunni Arabs to join Iraq’s political process.

Adnan al-Dulaimi was dismissed July 24 as head of the Sunni Endowment, the government agency in charge of the upkeep of Sunni mosques and shrines, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s office said.

Al-Dulaimi told the AP he was fired for defending Sunnis, who dominated Iraqi politics under Saddam Hussein but feel marginalized by the current U.S.-backed, Shiite-dominated government. Drawing Sunnis into the political process is seen as key for legitimizing any Iraqi government.

“I think that the reason behind my dismissal is that they want to silence a voice that is speaking against unjustified practices against Sunnis such as arrests, torture in the prisons, and also for my calls to release innocent detainees and to save Iraq from sectarianism, insecurity and divisions,” al-Dulaimi said.

Al-Dulaimi had been among a handful of Sunni Muslim clerics and officials who have urged fellow Sunnis to vote in the constitutional referendum slated for October and the general elections following in December. Most Sunnis boycotted the Jan. 30 balloting.

Tensions between the Sunni Muslim minority and the Shiite community have been on the rise, with recent reports of Sunnis being detained and killed by Shiite-led military forces.

Dozens of bodies – blindfolded, bound and shot – have been discovered around Baghdad and central Iraq, many of them Sunnis. Earlier this month, 11 Sunni detainees died in police custody after suffocating inside a locked van in the midday heat. A criminal investigation into the deaths is underway.

Most members of the Sunni Arab community, which forms the core of the anti-American insurgency, stayed home during the country’s landmark Jan. 30 elections. That helped Shiites and Kurds win control of the new government, since only 17 Sunni members made it into the 275-member parliament.

Also Saturday:

– The death toll from a suicide bomb attack on army volunteers in a town near the Syrian border rose to 52 from 25 after some of the wounded died overnight, police said. The number of wounded nearly doubled to 93 after officials added more patients taken to a hospital in a different town. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement.

– The bodies of two Baghdad International Airport employees and their driver, kidnapped earlier this week, were discovered Saturday in a field in Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. Mahir Yassin, director of the airport’s communication department; fellow employee Mahmoud Hamad al-Zawbaie; and driver Mahmoud al-Zawbaie were kidnapped Wednesday on their way to work.

AP-ES-07-30-05 1014EDT


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