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At least 19 people have been killed in three bombings in Baghdad, including a blast caused by a female suicide bomber outside the Green Zone, security officials say.

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The attacks came days before parliament was to vote on a divisive military accord that would allow US troops to remain in Iraq until 2011. It was a brutal reminder of the violence that still plagues the war-torn country.

In the first attack 13 people were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near a bus carrying trade ministry employees in the rush-hour in east Baghdad, security officials from the ministries of interior and defence said.

One of those killed was a young girl less than 10 years old, they said, and nine of the victims were women.

Less than an hour later a female suicide bomber blew herself up in a corridor leading into the Green Zone, where Iraqi employees were queuing to pass through security checkpoints, killing five.

Another 17 people were wounded in the rush-hour attack, which echoed across central Baghdad and sent a pillar of black smoke into the air.

Security checkpoint targeted

The Green Zone blast splashed blood and seared flesh across the grey concrete barriers at the entrance to the restricted area.

US and Iraqi forces closed the checkpoint and ordered bystanders to leave the area, forcing employees to wait hundreds of metres away.

A US military spokesman said initial reports indicated that two of those killed were Iraqi soldiers and the other three were civilians.

“Two women employees of the intelligence services were killed and six guards were wounded in the attack this morning. This attack targeted our checkpoint,” an official from the Iraqi intelligence services said – adding that one of the victims was pregnant.

The entrance is at the start of a long, winding concrete maze with several checkpoints guarded by US and Iraqi forces and allied Ugandan soldiers.

The employees had begun queueing in the early morning, and some would have had to wait hours to pass through the layers of metal detectors, X-ray machines and body searches.

Parliament set for crucial vote

The Green Zone houses Iraq's parliament and several government offices and foreign embassies.

It was last attacked on October 7, when two powerful blasts went off just outside the area, wounding an Iraqi soldier and six civilians.

Iraq has seen significant improvements in security over the past year but bombings are still common in the capital and other restive areas.

In another blast in east Baghdad a roadside bomb killed one person and wounded five others, police said, adding that three of the wounded were patrolling police who appeared to have been the intended target.

The attacks came as Iraq's parliament was mulling a controversial security pact that would have US forces withdraw from all Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 and from the country as a whole by the end of 2011.

Iraq's cabinet approved the pact – the product of nearly a year of intensive negotiations – over a week ago, but the accord has drawn fire from hardline nationalists, who have demanded that US troops leave sooner.

The Iraq government in recent days has urged parliament to approve the agreement, which would govern the more than 150,000 US troops deployed in over 400 bases across Iraq when their current UN mandate expires on December 31.

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