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Weekend violence in Iraq kills 23

4 children dead in grenade attack

BAGHDAD -- Insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at a policeman's home northeast of Baghdad yesterday, killing his four children and his brother and raising to at least 23 the number of Iraqis killed in attacks this weekend.

Also yesterday, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of nearly two dozen men abducted last week north of Baghdad after being rejected entry into a police academy, officials said.

The violence continued as Iraq's political parties began preparing for talks on a new coalition government that US officials hope will win the confidence of disaffected Sunni Arabs and undermine support for the insurgency. That would hasten the time when US and other foreign troops can withdraw.

There was still no word on the fate of Jill Carroll, the kidnapped American journalist, two days after a deadline set by her captors. They had threatened to kill the 28-year-old freelancer for The Christian Science Monitor unless all female Iraqi detainees were freed.

Iraqi officials have said they expect the US military to free six of the nine women it is holding this week. US authorities have not confirmed the assertion.

The attack on the policeman's home occurred in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, according to the Iraqi police Joint Coordination Center. The officer's four children, ages 6 to 11, and his brother were killed, the center said. The officer was unharmed, but his wife was wounded.

Sunni-led insurgents often target police as part of their campaign to try to undermine support for the US-backed government.

Four policemen were killed and nine were wounded yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in Baqubah, a city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said. Police also said a man was gunned down at a west Baghdad gas station and another was slain in a market in the capital's Amil district.

The bodies of the 23 men were found partially buried near Dujail, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, said Interior Ministry police Lieutenant Thair Mahmoud. They had been abducted Wednesday while traveling from Baghdad to their homes after they were not accepted at a police recruit center.

Elsewhere, the bodies of prominent Sunni Arab tribal leader, Sayid Ibrahim Ali, 75, and his son, Ayad, 28, were found in a field near Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, police said. They were shot as they left a funeral Saturday.

In the central city of Mashru, police found the bodies of two blindfolded men who had been shot in the head and chest.

On Saturday, US soldiers killed three gunmen firing from several cars north of Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the military said yesterday. Twelve other people were reported killed in sporadic violence Saturday.

Nevertheless, US Brigadier General Don Alston said insurgent attacks nationwide fell 40 percent last week, compared with the previous week. Attacks in Baghdad fell 80 percent for the same period, he told reporters.

The reduction in attacks occurred as security was stepped up in Baghdad and other trouble areas ahead of the announcement last Friday of the results of the Dec. 15 national elections for a new parliament. An alliance of Shi'ite religious parties won the biggest bloc of seats but not enough to govern without partners. US officials hope the Shi'ite alliance, which won 128 of the 275 seats, will include a significant number of Sunni Arabs in the new coalition. Contacts are underway among the nation's Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish politicians but the negotiations could take weeks.

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