A car bomb detonated near a police patrol Monday killing at least one police officer outside a gate leading into the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, the headquarters of the Iraqi government and U.S. forces in Iraq.
The explosion was followed by small arms fire and billowing black smoke that could be seen across the city. Police Capt. Nabil Abdelqadir said at least one police officer was killed and four police officers and three civilians injured.
Two Apache attack helicopters were soon flying over the scene as the smoke cleared and sporadic gunfire continued in the area. The blast occurred between the Green Zone gate, which is surrounded by massive blast walls, and the nearby Iranian embassy.
On most days in Baghdad at least one car bomb detonates in the city, mostly targeting Iraqi security services or U.S. troops. Direct attacks on the Green Zone are relatively rare.
The attack followed demands by Sunni Arab politicians for an end to U.S. and Iraqi military operations, claiming they threaten Sunni participation in next month's elections - a key U.S. goal. The U.S. command also announced on Sunday the deaths of three more American troops.
U.S. commanders have said offensives, especially those in the western province of Anbar near the Syrian border, are aimed at encouraging Sunni Arabs to vote in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections without fear of intimidation by insurgents opposed to the political process.
However, several major Sunni Arab political groups insisted Sunday that such operations risk keeping Sunni turnout low because civilians are displaced by the fighting or they will be too frightened to venture out to the polls.
Some alleged the Shiite-led government was intentionally carrying out operations northeast of Baghdad to discourage Sunni Arabs from voting - a charge that Iraqi officials have denied.
Ayad al-Izi, a member of the largest Sunni Arab party, charged that raids by the Interior Ministry in religiously mixed Diyala province were politically motivated to cow Sunnis.
The Interior Ministry said 310 people were arrested in the Diyala raids, which followed a truck bombing in a Shiite village that killed about 20 people. It did not say whether all those arrested were Sunnis.
Most Sunni Arabs boycotted the Jan. 30 elections, enabling the majority Shiites and their Kurdish allies to dominate the current parliament.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani predicted in an interview televised Sunday in London that the 8,500 British soldiers could be gone by the end of 2006 - although he was not speaking for the government, the AP reports.