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Fatal car bomb blows up Baghdad restaurant

Five reported dead, police say at least 21 wounded

Fire burns at scene of car bombing of restaurant in Baghdad.
Fire burns at scene of car bombing of restaurant in Baghdad.

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A car bomb rips through a Baghdad restaurant during New Year's Eve celebrations.
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CNN's Satinder Bindra reports on violence in Baghdad and Kirkuk, Iraq.
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CNN's Satinder Bindra on Iraqis' anger at insurgents.
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CNN's Karl Penhaul on the Iraq Civil Defense Corps.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A car bomb ripped through a restaurant Wednesday night in central Baghdad as patrons celebrated New Year's Eve, killing at least five people, according to a senior Iraqi official.

Gen. Ahmed Kadhim Ibrahim, senior deputy interior minister, said the five who died were Iraqis and that 15 people were wounded. Iraqi police put the wounded toll at 21.

Among the wounded were three correspondents for the Los Angeles Times.

The restaurant, popular with Westerners, and three or four other buildings were flattened in the blast. Flames shot into the sky immediately following the explosion.

Rescuers and Iraqi police -- many of them donning flak jackets -- searched the rubble for survivors.

Ibrahim said authorities had information six days ago that such an attack was possible, though no specific target was mentioned.

He said he ordered police to stay alert and set up checkpoints, and restaurants hosting New Year's Eve parties were informed not to let cars park nearby.

Los Angeles Times spokesman David Garcia said the three correspondents were being treated for injuries that were not life-threatening. Four support workers for the newspaper suffered similar injuries, he said.

The correspondents were identified as Rome Bureau Chief Tracy Wilkinson; Chris Kraul, who before going to Baghdad worked as a correspondent out of the paper's Mexico bureau; and Ann Simmons, a Los Angeles-based correspondent.

Iraqi police said the source of the blast was an explosives-laden car parked outside the Nabil restaurant, a trendy eatery in a residential and business district of the Iraqi capital that had advertised a New Year's Eve celebration.

The blast, which left a crater, was heard around 9:20 p.m. (1:20 p.m. ET) and shook the hotel where CNN's staff is staying more than a mile away.

Windows on buildings more than 200 feet away from the primary blast site were blown out and the street was littered with debris.

A man who emerged from the restaurant said many people were inside the restaurant. Many of the patrons were Westerners, he said.

Two U.S. armored personnel carriers rolled into the area about 30 minutes after the explosion, and about 30 to 40 U.S. soldiers conducted a sweep searching for other possible explosives.

Iraqi police also reported another explosion in southeast Baghdad, with no injuries. Coalition authorities could not confirm that report.

Shortly after the explosion, military helicopters were spotted circling over Baghdad's Green Zone, where the coalition administration is based. Flares were fired into the sky to light up the streets.

U.S. forces were already on heightened alert, fearing insurgents could launch an attack to coincide with the New Year's holiday.

"We have spent some time here of late gaining intelligence on what might happen to us over the next 46 to 72 hours," Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey told a news conference in Baghdad on Wednesday.

"We will act appropriately to make sure that our soldiers and the Iraqi populace is protected from the potential attacks against us," said Dempsey, commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division.

Earlier in the day, two roadside bombs detonated in Baghdad, one targeting a U.S. military convoy.

Iraqi sources said an 8-year-old boy died in that attack, which also injured five U.S. soldiers and three Iraqi civil defense personnel, according to Dempsey.

'Significant' people have turned themselves in

Dempsey said attacks against U.S. forces have decreased as a result of intelligence from local Iraqis, which has increased since the capture of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Several "important, significant people" have turned themselves in to Iraqi authorities after being named by Saddam during questioning, according to Dr. Iyad Allawi, who is heading security issues for the Iraq Governing Council.

Allawi said the people surrendered during the 10 days after Saddam's arrest.

Allawi also said Iraqi officials have documents "with Saddam's signatures" showing he siphoned about $2 billion from the Central Bank of Iraq around the time the war started in March.

Guerrillas kill protesters in Kirkuk

In the northern city of Kirkuk, Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas opened fire Wednesday morning on a crowd of protesters, killing two and wounding 14 others, according to Kirkuk police sources.

The demonstrators, mostly Arabs and Turkmen, were demanding that Kirkuk remain part of Iraq, not an autonomous Kurdish region.

Oil-rich Kirkuk is about 160 miles (258 km) north of the capital.

Other developments

Iraqis help a wounded man in Kirkuk on Wednesday.
Iraqis help a wounded man in Kirkuk on Wednesday.

• U.S. forces operating in the Sunni triangle -- the region of Iraq most loyal to captured Saddam Hussein -- found a significant weapons cache that included al Qaeda literature and videotapes, the U.S. military said Tuesday. Members of Task Force Ironhorse of the 4th Infantry Division discovered the material Monday morning at a site in Samarra, about 65 miles north-northwest of Baghdad. Some of the items were found hidden in a false wall, the military said. (Full story)

• Just weeks after a Pentagon audit questioned whether Halliburton overcharged the U.S. government in a contract to bring fuel into Iraq, the Defense Department has replaced the Army Corps of Engineers in overseeing the mission, officials said Tuesday. The Defense Energy Support Center, the Pentagon's energy procurement agent, will take over the job and open the contract for new bids.(Full story)

• The Bush administration may set aside up to $4 billion in Iraqi reconstruction projects, a senior administration official told CNN Wednesday. The official said the option "is under serious consideration" to delay the Iraqi reconstruction projects, originally set to begin when the coalition authority cedes power. (Full story)

• A U.S. soldier cleaning a weapon accidentally fired a chambered round, killing a fellow soldier and injuring another, the Coalition Joint Task Force reported Wednesday. The incident happened Tuesday evening at the Tanif crossing near Iraq's border with southern Syria.

• Iraqi state television reportedly shot video of doctors caring for former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch and trying unsuccessfully to save Pfc. Lori Piestawa at a hospital where they were taken after the March 23 ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company, NBC reported. NBC reported the video was shot for propaganda purposes but was never aired. (Full story)

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