A new round of car bombs struck Shiite and Sunni targets in the capital on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people.
Two suicide car bombs also struck the headquarters of the Iraqi army's 2nd Battalion near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, killing four soldiers and wounding 10.
"If you take Baghdad, it's unacceptable levels of violence here right now. We have got to bring it down," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, said.
The scope of the problem was clear Wednesday, from the first bombing at a bus stop during morning rush hour through the announcement by the government at 9 p.m. that the tortured, bullet-ridden bodies of 21 Iraqi kidnap victims had been found on the streets of the capital.
The violence came just days before a frequently delayed national reconciliation conference scheduled for Saturday. The gathering is aimed at rallying the country's various ethnic, religious and political groups around a common strategy for handling Iraq's problems.
At 8:45 a.m., a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad's Kamaliyah neighborhood, killing at least 11 civilians, wounding 27 and heavily damaging nearby shops and cars, but the mosque was not damaged, authorities said.
"A Volkswagen car exploded right near the bus stop, hitting a group of people, including women and children who were waiting to take a bus to a fruit and vegetable market," said one witness, Abu Haider al-Kaabi.
The poor area of Baghdad appeared to be the latest target of widespread sectarian violence in the capital involving Sunni Arabs and Shiites. On Nov. 23, suspected Sunni insurgents carried out the deadliest single attack of the Iraq war by using bombs and mortars to kill 215 people in the capital's Shiite slum of Sadr City.
Two other car bombs exploded in the mostly Shiite area of New Baghdad, leaving four people killed and 14 wounded. Another car bomb struck the largely Sunni area of Yarmouk, killing two people and wounding three.
In violence elsewhere in Iraq, seven tortured bodies were found in the northern city of Mosul; men with explosives destroyed a small, empty Shiite shrine in Baqouba, security forces said.
South of the capital, three roadside bombs missed a police patrol, killing one civilian and wounding one in Musayyib; and gunmen killed a nine-member Shiite family in an attack on their house in Hasna village.
In other developments:President Bush said Wednesday he would "not ... be rushed" into a decision on a strategy change for Iraq, saying that in a round of consultations he heard both some interesting ideas and some "ideas that would lead to defeat." "And I reject those ideas," Mr. Bush said after meeting with top generals and Defense Department officials at the Pentagon. He said those ideas included "leaving before the job is done, ideas such as not helping this (Iraqi) government take the necessary and hard steps to be able to do its job." A spokeswoman for the U.S. Marine Corps has died in Iraq, becoming the first female Marine officer to be killed in the conflict. Maj. Megan M. McClung, of Coupeville, Wash., died Dec. 6 in Al Anbar province, the Department of Defense said in a news release. McClung, 34, was a public affairs officer assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters at Camp Pendleton. McClung joined the Marine Corps in May 1995 after graduating from the Naval Academy. A call to her family home in Coupeville was unanswered.It was three years ago Wednesday that American forces acting on a tip found Iraq's deposed dictator hiding in a small underground dugout in a back yard. "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," U.S. administrator Paul Bremer told journalists in Baghdad, to loud cheers, the following day. Saddam is presently on trial for war crimes and genocide stemming from a military crackdown on Iraq's Kurdish population. He has already been sentenced to death by a separate tribunal.Saudi Arabia has warned it could decide to provide financial support to Iraqi Sunnis if the U.S. pulls its troops out of Iraq, where sectarian violence between the minority Sunnis and majority Iraqi Shiites has threatened to tear apart the country, The New York Times reported. Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni country and up to now has promised U.S. officials that it would not intervene to assist Iraq's Sunni insurgency, according to the report, appearing in Wednesday's edition of The Times and citing anonymous American and Arab diplomatic sources.The New York Times also reported Wednesday that Iraq's government has presented the United States with a plan that calls for Iraqi troops to assume primary responsibility for security in the city of Baghdad by March. The official quoted, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, was not available for comment Wednesday morning, but U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said American and Iraqi officials have been weighing proposals about the transfer of power over security in Iraq for several months. The White House says President Bush has largely decided on a new approach to the Iraq war, that he will announce next month, but he gave no public hint of his plan Tuesday when he met with the country's Sunni vice president. America's outgoing No. 2 commander in Iraq has said that curbing unemployment and improving services would help reduce the violence in the country, warning that military muscle cannot win the war alone. At times during his farewell news conference Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli — in charge of day-to-day combat operations throughout Iraq — sounded exacerbated, almost despairing, over what he said were misperceptions that American forces were fighting a conventional war or that they can achieve victory without improvements on other fronts.
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