The first explosion on Tuesday targeted the convoy of Mulla Bekhtyar, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), in the western Sarjnar area.

PUK sources confirmed that a car bomb hit Bekhtyar's convoy, but he survived the assassination attempt, Iraqi journalist Muhammad Faiq told Aljazeera. Two of Bekhtyar's guards were injured.

Another car bomb exploded about 10 to 15 minutes later in front of the peshmerga ministry, Aljazeera reported quoting officials who deal with Kurdish militia forces.

It was not clear how many people were wounded.

A military parade of Iraqi army and peshmerga forces was to be held on Tuesday in al-Sulaymaniya and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and top Iraqi government officials were set to attend.

Al-Sulaymaniya, in the northern mountains, has been among the most tranquil spots in Iraq, rarely troubled by the violence that has racked the country in the past two and a half years, and has been the focus of considerable business investment.

Security measures have been stepped up in the area, Faiq reported.

US convoy targeted

Also on Tuesday, a roadside bomb exploded near a US military convoy in Baghdad, missing the soldiers but killing a seven-year-old boy who was selling cans of black-market petrol on a street, and wounding nine other civilians, officials said.

The Tuesday blast hit Iraqi pedestrians in Askan, a commercial district of western Baghdad at about 8.45am, and destroyed several parked cars, said police Captain Qasim Husain and Dr Muhammad Jawad at Yarmuk hospital.

The wounded included a 10-year-old Iraqi girl, they said.

At least nine people died in the
al-Sulaymaniya blasts

Separately, Iraqi and US forces refortified a hotel complex where many international journalists live after three car bombers attacked the day before, killing as many as 20 Iraqis and wounding about 40.

In three separate drive-by shootings, armed men killed a policeman and wounded an Iraqi army officer and his driver in the Dura section of Baghdad, and killed a policewoman in Mosul, a city 360km northwest of the capital, police said.

Also on Tuesday, hospital sources in Karabal said nine border guards were found shot dead in southeastern Iraq near the border with Saudi Arabia.

The bodies were discovered in the Nakhib region, some 260km southeast of Baghdad, hospital officials from the Hussein Hospital in the Shia Muslim city of Karbala said.

The victims had been shot dead, added the officials who had examined the remains. The bodies were still being identified but they were "probably Shia" Arabs, they said.

Marines killed

In other news, two US marines were killed in Iraq when their vehicle was attacked by a roadside bomb, the military said on Tuesday, pushing the total US military toll since the 2003 invasion to 1999.

A military statement said the marines died on Friday near the town of Amariya outside Falluja, a focus of the Sunni Arab uprising against the US-backed Baghdad government.

A British research group puts the
Iraqi toll at 30,051 

At least 1997 members of the military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The Iraqi toll is unknown, but estimates are much higher.

Iraq Body Count, a British research group that compiles its figures from reports by the major news agencies and British and US newspapers, has said that as many as 30,051 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the war.

Other estimates go as high as 100,000. The US authorities say they have not kept a count of such deaths, and Iraqi government accounting has proven to be haphazard.

Terror financier

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials have announced the arrest of what they called the "main terrorist financier" in the city of Falluja.

Iraqi security forces "arrested Monem Shakem al-Qubaisi, the main terrorist financier in Fallujah", Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's office said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Pretending to bring aid to the people of Fallujah, Qubaisi distributed money to terrorist groups to carry out attacks against security forces," the statement read.

The suspect also "travelled abroad to collect funds with the aim of causing trouble in Iraq", the premier's office added, without giving a date for his arrest.

Al-Qaida claim

Also on Tuesday, al-Qaida in Iraq said it was behind the attacks that killed at least 15 people at a fortified hotel compound used by foreign journalists in Baghdad on Monday, according to a web posting.   

The attack on the Palestine Hotel
complex claimed at least 15 lives

"Despite all (the security), our group managed to carry out reconnaissance in the area and gather information ... break through the barriers," said a statement from al-Qaida Organisation in Iraq.

 

The group said it targeted the complex because "the infidels had deemed it a safe-haven, and was a fertile, dirty den full of foreign intelligence agencies, American, British and Australian security companies, and foreign contractors".

   

It said the attacks were carried out by two teams, one of which clashed with guards after targeting them with missiles, allowing one attacker to infiltrate the heavily guarded compound, suggesting that a human bomber was involved.

   

The web statement said other team members escaped. Its authenticity could not be verified, but it was signed by the group's spokesman.