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Bombings kill at least 50 Iraqis; 7 more US soldiers die

Biden opposes troop increase

BAGHDAD -- A string of car bombs and other blasts killed at least 50 Iraqis yesterday, including 17 outside Baghdad's most venerated Sunni mosque, while US troops battled Shi'ite militiamen in Baghdad.

Seven more American soldiers died, the US military said, pushing the December death toll to 90 in one of the bloodiest months for the American troops in Iraq this year. About 105 troops were killed in October.

President Bush is weighing whether to send thousands more troops to Iraq, but a senior Democratic senator, Joseph R. Biden Jr. , said yesterday that he would fight such a move.

In the most lethal blast yesterday, three parked cars exploded one after another in western Baghdad, police and Iraqi media reported. The blasts killed 25 people and wounded 55, one physician said by telephone.

The doctor, who has provided information in the past, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Another attack occurred in Azamiyah, a Sunni enclave of Iraq's capital, where a car bomb exploded near the Abu Hanifa mosque, according to Iraqi media.

That blast killed 17 and wounded 35, said a physician at the nearby Nuaman Hospital, who has provided information to the Associated Press in the past. He also asked to remain anonymous out of concern for his safety.

The explosion tore through a busy square at the start of the evening rush hour, when merchants were selling clothing and kebabs. The mosque itself was not damaged, witnesses said.

The mosque is Sunni Islam's holiest shrine in Baghdad and a regular target of Shi'ite mortar fire . One person was killed in shelling there last month.

US troops, meanwhile, exchanged fire with Shi'ite militiamen in east Baghdad, near Sadr City, the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

A reporter embedded with the soldiers watched the Americans set up roadblocks, occupy homes, and engage in gun battles with militia fighters across the border of Sadr City.

The latest US deaths brought the number of US military members killed since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978.

Officials say Bush is considering all options for a new strategy in Iraq, but the US president is thought to favor a surge of up to 30,000 more American troops .

Biden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday called that option "the absolute wrong strategy," especially when it came to stabilizing Baghdad. "Even with the surge of troops, in a city of 6 million people you're talking about a ratio that would still be roughly above one to 100," Biden said.

Senior defense officials said yesterday that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has signed orders that will send the 82 d Airborne Division's Second Brigade to Kuwait shortly after the new year.

In another Baghdad attack yesterday, a bomb hidden in a CD player exploded in a busy market district after a man dropped it off at an electronics repair shop.

The bomb killed five people and wounded 14 others, police said.

In Kirkuk, 180 miles north of the Iraqi capital, a roadside bomb killed three civilians -- including an 8-year-old girl -- and wounded six others, police said.

Police found 49 bodies bearing signs of torture dumped across the country, mostly in Baghdad.

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