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Scores dead across Iraq in blasts, shootings

3,700 US troops shifting to Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- Bombings and shootings killed more than 70 people in Iraq yesterday in a surge of bloodshed, as US forces prepared to try to take back Baghdad's streets from gunmen. The dead included 20 Iraqi troops, a US soldier, and a British soldier.

The American soldier, who was assigned to the First Armored Division, died ``due to enemy action" in Anbar Province west of Baghdad, the US command said. In a separate statement, the military said a US soldier from the 16th Corps Support Group died the day before in a roadside bombing south of the capital.

In further violence, officials confirmed that about 45 Shi'ite Muslims were kidnapped over the last two weeks on the main highway to Syria and Jordan. The highway passes through Sunni insurgent strongholds west of Baghdad.

The deadliest attack yesterday occurred when a roadside bomb devastated a bus packed with Iraqi soldiers near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad. All 24 people aboard were killed, Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said. All but four of the dead were Iraqi soldiers, police said.

In Baghdad, 14 people died and 37 were wounded when a car bomb exploded at a bank where police and soldiers were picking up monthly paychecks, police Lieutenant Colonel Abbas Mohammed Salman said.

The blast set several other cars ablaze and scattered dismembered bodies along the street as bystanders carried the injured to ambulances.

Abdul-Hassan Mohammed, 62, a retired teacher who had gone to the bank to pick up his pension, said the explosion slammed him about 12 feet into a wall.

``My friends took me to one of their stores, gave me water, and asked me to relax," Mohammed said. ``I didn't even get my pension."

It was the third major attack in less than a week in Karradah, a fashionable, mostly Shi'ite neighborhood in central Baghdad that is home to several prominent politicians. Last Thursday, 31 people were killed in an attack that included rockets, mortars, and a car bomb.

On Monday, gunmen dressed in military fatigues abducted 26 people from the offices of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and a nearby mobile phone company.

The British soldier was fatally wounded in a mortar barrage before dawn yesterday on a British base in the southern city of Basra, the British Defense Ministry said. Britain has lost 115 soldiers in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

There was no claim of responsibility for the barrage. But it followed a crackdown by the British on Shi'ite militias that have infiltrated security forces in the city and threaten the authority of the government in Baghdad.

In the southern city of Najaf, Governor Assad Abu Kilal said 45 people from his province had disappeared while traveling by bus through the Sunni-dominated area west of Baghdad. He demanded the government stop the kidnappings or he would send his own forces to protect the road.

A senior Interior Ministry official, Saadoun Abu al-Ula, confirmed that more than 45 people from the Najaf area were seized but said ``it's been going on for the past two weeks -- like two or three people snatched per day."

US officials have also grown alarmed over the rise in Sunni-Shi'ite violence and the role of sectarian militias. Those tensions are now considered a greater threat than the Sunni insurgency to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The US military is moving at least 3,700 soldiers from Mosul to Baghdad and is gearing up for a new security operation to wrest control of the capital from Shi'ite militias, Sunni insurgents, kidnap gangs, rogue police, and freelance gunmen.

US officials have described the Baghdad campaign as a ``must-win" for Maliki, whose government has been unable to curb the rise in violence since it took office May 20. American troops will work alongside US-trained Iraqi forces.

As part of the campaign against militias, US troops yesterday arrested a Baghdad-area representative of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army is among the most feared armed groups.

The arrest of Sheik Ahmed al-Ashmani was reported by Sadr's staff, which said 10 other members of the cleric's movement were detained. There was no confirmation from the US military.

Meanwhile, gunmen ambushed a minibus carrying employees of a power station to their homes in the Shi'ite district of Sadr City, killing five passengers and wounding six, police said.

A car bomb killed seven people, six of them civilians, in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad and a flashpoint of Sunni-Shi'ite tensions. Three Iraqi soldiers were killed yesterday evening when a car bomber attacked a checkpoint in the northern city of Tal Afar, the Iraqi Army said.

An Iraqi journalist working for the Iranian government-run Al-Alam television was slain in western Baghdad. Adil al-Mansuri, who was in his 20s, was stopped by gunmen Monday and shot, according to a colleague, Aysar al-Yasiri.

A Sunni Arab politician, Mohammed Shihab al-Dulaimi, was kidnapped yesterday in Baghdad, his associates said.

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