BAGHDAD (AP) -- A roadside bomb killed the governor of the southern Muthanna province on Monday, police said, the second assassination of a top provincial official in just over a week.
A bomb on a motorcycle also exploded in a busy market district in central Baghdad, killing at least three people and wounding 11, according to a police official in the capital.
The violence came as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Syria for his first visit to the neighboring country since he took office in May 2006. His visit comes amid U.S. allegations that Syria is allowing foreign fighters to cross its borders and as Damascus struggles with an influx of Iraqi refugees who have fled the violence and chaos in their homeland.
"We will discuss the serious security file and its challenges, which concern not only Iraq but the whole region. We will discuss the Iraqi community and immigrants in Syria and the ways to provide them with services," al-Maliki told reporters.
France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, meanwhile, was meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and other Iraqi officials a day after arriving for a highly symbolic visit to Iraq - the first by a senior French official since the war started, setting off years of icy relations between Paris and Washington.
Kouchner said Sunday that he was not in Iraq to offer initiatives or proposals but to listen to ideas on how his country might help stop the devastating violence.
"Now we are turning the page. There is a new perspective. We want to talk about the future. Democracy, integrity, sovereignty, reconciliation and stopping the killings. That's my deep aim," he said in English after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari.
The blast struck the SUV carrying Gov. Mohammed Ali al-Hassani about 9 a.m., shortly after his convoy departed from his home in Rumaitha en route to his office in the provincial capital of Samawah, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Al-Hassani, his driver and a guard were killed, while his office manager and two other guards were seriously wounded, police said.
A curfew was immediately clamped on Samawah and new checkpoints were erected.
On Aug. 11, the governor and police chief of another southern province, Qadasiyah, also were killed in a roadside bombing attack. Gov. Khalil Jalil Hamza and the police chief Maj. Gen. Khalid Hassan were killed as they returned to the provincial capital of Diwaniyah from a funeral for a tribal sheik.
Both governors were members of the influential Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a group led by Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim whose loyalists have been fighting the Mahdi Army militia for control of the oil-rich south as British-led forces gradually withdraw from the area.
Al-Hassani, 52, was from a prominent clan in the area and had been governor for about two years despite several attempts by rivals in the provincial council to sack him.
SIIC dominates the Muthanna provincial capital with about half of the 40 seats, with the rest divided among other Shiite parties, including Fadhila and the Dawa party of al-Maliki.
Police quickly laid blame on the Mahdi Army, which is nominally loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and has been involved in several recent clashes with its rivals.
"There was nothing against the governor inside the province except the confrontations between Mahdi Army and SIIC, which have claimed the lives of dozens of people," an officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution.
Al-Maliki's office issued a statement condemning the assassination, saying it had ordered and investigation and calling for restraint against retaliation.
"Those behind this horrible crime want to flood the province with chaos and insecurity, thus implementing an agenda of hatred that does not want any good for our people," the prime minister said in the statement.
"Therefore, we call on our people in the Muthanna province to exercise self-restraint and avoid the trap set by this act," he added. "Meanwhile our armed forces are ordered to confront with full zeal and force any one who tries to destabilize the province."
Kouchner's visit was welcomed in Washington, where the Bush administration is facing a Sept. 15 deadline to report to Congress on progress in Iraq as a result of the infusion of 30,000 more U.S. troops in the first half of the year. American public opinion and congressional sentiment is running against the U.S. effort and there are many calls for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.
"This is one more example, along with the new UN mandate, the neighbors conference process and recent announcements by Saudi Arabia to open an embassy and forgive Saddam-era debt, of a growing international desire to help Iraq become a stable and secure country," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
In another sign of growing Shiite discontent, thousands rallied against the U.S. in Sadr City, waving Iraqi flags and shouting "no, no to America." One group of men set an effigy of an American flag on fire, then stomped on it.
The protesters demanded an end to the raids that are often carried out by U.S. and Iraqi forces against suspected militia fighters in Baghdad's main Shiite district as part of a six-month-old security crackdown in Baghdad. Iraqis frequently claim that civilians are killed in the raids and some carried photos of victims and women in mourning.
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