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Rescue workers pull bodies from rubble as death toll from attacks in Iraq rises to 64
September 01, 2006, 12:00 AM The Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Rescue crews pulled bodies from the wreckage of bombed buildings Friday after a barrage of coordinated attacks across eastern Baghdad killed at least 64 people and wounded more than 286 within half an hour, police said.

Thursday's violence -- which included explosives planted in apartments, car bombs and several rocket and mortar attacks on mainly Shiite neighborhoods -- came even as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi forces should have control over most of the country by year's end.

Defense Ministry spokesman Muhammad Al-Askari told Iraqi state TV that security forces planned to expand into an area of eastern Baghdad that includes the bombed neighborhoods, as early as next week. The move is part of "Operation Together Forward," the security operation that targets the capital's most violent and problematic districts in phases.

"We have prepared everything, but we are waiting to mobilize the troops and prepare the special military units that will implement the raids," he said.

Authorities reported more violence Friday, saying gunmen fatally shot one policeman in each of two towns outside of Baghdad in separate incidents. Police also said they found the body of a Saddam Hussein-era intelligence officer who had been kidnapped and shot.

The death toll from the Baghdad bombings rose to 64 as more bodies were recovered, police Capt. Mohammed Abdul-Ghani said. Across the country, a total of 85 people were killed Thursday.

The Baghdad attacks centered on neighborhoods controlled by Shiite militias, some of which Sunni Arabs accuse of running death squads.

Attackers rented apartments and shops in buildings a few days ago and planted explosives in them, detonating them by remote control almost simultaneously, Maj. Gen. Jihad Liaabi, director of the Interior Ministry's counterterrorism unit, told state television late Thursday.

The attacks happened between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and included a car bomb at a market, another behind a telephone exchange building and several rocket and mortar attacks, police said.

On Friday, residents salvaged belongings from their wrecked homes, using blankets to carry out their possessions. Large chunks of concrete and burned-out cars littered the street.

Kindi hospital -- one of four where the wounded and dead were taken -- received dozens of casualties.

In one room, doctors wheeled a man with a bandaged leg out of a room. "Slowly, slowly," he pleaded, crying in pain.

A young boy, his head and right leg heavily bandaged and his pillow bloodstained, pleaded for a glass of water.

Earlier Thursday, a suicide car bomber killed two people at a gas station, while a British Embassy convoy was targeted in the upscale Mansour neighborhood in western Baghdad, wounding two passers-by, police said.

Police found the body of Kamil Shateb, a former intelligence officer during Saddam's regime, in Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, a morgue official said. He had been kidnapped the day before and shot in the head.

Gunmen shot and killed a policeman in Numaniyah, a town near Kut, after breaking into his house Thursday night. A policeman was also gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.

Also Friday, a bomb targeting an oil pipeline south of Baghdad exploded, sparking a fire and cutting supply to a major electricity station, but causing no casualties, police said. The bombed pipeline was on the outskirts of Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, police Col. Salah Salman Mudir said.

The bloodshed was part of a violent week that has left hundreds of Iraqis dead.

The U.S. military also announced that two American soldiers and a Marine were killed Wednesday, bringing to 18 the number of U.S. soldiers killed since Sunday, according to an Associated Press count.

An al-Qaida-affiliated group late Thursday issued a statement saying Shiite-led attacks on Sunnis in northern Baghdad -- including kidnappings, mortar attacks and assassination attempts _ were intensifying. The statement appeared on a Web site used by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni extremist groups that includes al-Qaida in Iraq. It described reconciliation attempts by the Iraqi government with unspecified groups that agreed to lay down their arms as "futile" and called on Sunnis to fight those who "legalized the shedding of Muslim blood."

Authorities said they were optimistic about the handover of security in the country.

Al-Maliki said Iraqi forces will assume responsibility for Dhi Qar province in the south in September, making it the second of Iraq's 18 provinces that local forces would take control over.

"This makes us optimistic and proud because we managed to fulfill our promise," al-Maliki said. Iraqi authorities took over Muthanna province in the south from the British in July.

Dhi Qar is populated mainly by Shiite Muslims. Compared to more volatile areas, such as Anbar province in the west and Baghdad, it has been spared much sectarian violence. But U.S. commanders have expressed concern about the growing influence of Shiite militias in the area, many of whom they say receive support from Iran.

In Kirkuk province, about 180 miles north of Baghdad, two battalions of the Iraqi army's 4th Division took over control of the majority of the province from the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division, coalition forces said.

The city of Kirkuk and at least one village will remain under the U.S.-led coalition's control.

Handing over territory from coalition control to Iraqi control is a key part of any eventual drawdown of U.S. troops in the country.

On Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said Iraqi troops were on course to take over security from U.S.-led coalition forces in the next 12-18 months with little coalition help.

But President Bush insisted American troops must remain in Iraq until the country's forces are capable of full control.<

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