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23 Killed In Baghdad Car Bombings

Two suicide car bombers struck police checkpoints at Baghdad bridges within minutes of each other Friday evening, damaging both bridges and killing at least 23 people, police said.

The deadly blasts, which sent smoke billowing over the Shiite Zafaraniyah area of southeastern Baghdad, came amid new U.S. efforts to break up insurgent cells in the capital responsible for such attacks.

The U.S. military announced earlier Friday that it had conducted a series of raids against car bombing networks across the country, killing four suspected insurgents and detaining nine others.

U.S.-led forces have focused on disrupting car bomb making factories after several high-profile attacks that have killed hundreds in Baghdad and surrounding areas in recent weeks.

Officials say al Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgents were trying to provoke retaliatory violence from mainly Shiite militias that had agreed to lay low to avoid confrontations with Americans during a 12-week-old security crackdown.

The twin attacks began about 6 p.m. when the driver of a sedan waiting in a line of cars outside a police checkpoint near the old Diyala Bridge, blew up his vehicle, partially collapsing the span, police said.

About two minutes later the driver of a large fuel truck barreled toward a second checkpoint at the nearby new Diyala Bridge and blew up his vehicle, police said. The bridge was also damaged, and firefighters worked to extinguish burning police and civilian cars that had been driving across during the attack.

Local resident Khalid Ahmed, who was waiting in line to cross the bridge during the first attack, was wounded in his shoulder and hand.

"I was four cars behind the car bomb that exploded and caught fire. I fainted and I opened my eyes in the hospital," he said.

The bombings at the bridges, which cross the Diyala River, a Tigris tributary, killed 23 people, including 11 police and 12 civilians, and wounded 57 others, including 26 police, police said.

Baghdad's bridges repeatedly have been targeted by bombers. The most serious attack occurred April 12 when a suicide truck bomb collapsed the steel-girder Sarafiyah bridge, plunging cars into the water and killing 11 people. Two days later, a suicide car bomb killed 10 people at the Jadriyah bridge.

In other developments:

  • The U.S. commander in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, said he doesn't have enough troops for the mission in Diyala, a province northeast of Baghdad that has seen a rise in violence blamed largely on militants who fled the Baghdad security operation. Mixon also said that Iraqi government officials are not moving fast enough to provide the "most powerful weapon" against insurgents — a government that works and supplies services for the people. Pentagon officials say General Mixon will get more troops when the surge reaches full strength later this month, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin, but every soldier he gets is one less for Baghdad – the focal point of the attempt to clamp down on violence.
  • Facing growing opposition to the war among Americans, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said U.S. and British troops would need to stay in Iraq for one or two more years to help stem surging violence. "I think that in one or two years we will be able to recruit our forces, to prepare our forces and say goodbye to our friends," Talabani said in a speech to students at Cambridge University in England.
  • Baghdad also dispatched senior officials to Capitol Hill this week to warn lawmakers that pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq would have disastrous consequences. The lobbying push targeted Republicans and Democrats alike, but focused primarily on those considered influential on the war debate. On Thursday, hours before the House voted to limit funds for the war, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh met with more than 30 House Republicans and more than a half-dozen senators from both parties.
  • The United States knows for certain that radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is still living next door in Iran, a senior State Department official said Friday, disputing aides to the anti-American religious and political leader. "We know he's out of the country, we don't (merely) think" so, said David Satterfield, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top adviser for Iraq. "He's in Iran, which is where he has been since mid-January."
  • The Army will offer incentives to keep midlevel officers as it faces another decade or so in combat around the world, its chief of staff said Friday. Gen. George Casey, who took over as the Army's chief just a month ago, said the United States will "be in a period of conflict for, I believe, another five or ten years." And the Army, which has been stretched and stressed by five difficult years at war, must be organized and equipped to deal with that challenge, he said.

    The blasts Friday occurred despite a series of measures aimed at reducing violence in the capital.

    U.S. and security forces have increased the checkpoints in the capital and, in a bid to prevent bridge attacks, banned trucks capable of carrying more than one metric ton from crossing without strict searches. They also have long imposed a four-hour weekly driving ban during Friday prayers in Baghdad, but that ban ended on schedule three hours before the attacks.

    In one raid early Friday, troops acting on intelligence obtained in previous operations approached a building near Taji, an air base 12 miles north of Baghdad, suspected of housing a car bombing cell responsible for attacks on Iraqi civilians and U.S.-led forces, the military said.

    The troops came under fire from four armed men, whom they killed in a gun battle, the military said. One of those killed was suspected of being a leader of the cell with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq's top leaders, the military said.

    U.S. forces have staged several raids in the area in recent weeks aimed at the terror network's leadership, including one in which they killed al Qaeda propagandist Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jubouri earlier this month.

    Forces also carried out raids in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul on Thursday and Friday, detaining a total of nine people suspected of producing bombs and smuggling foreign fighters into the country to carry out attacks against U.S. troops, the military said.

    Two U.S. soldiers were killed in separate bombing attacks, the military announced Friday.

    One soldier from the Multinational Division-North was killed Thursday from an explosion during combat operations in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, the military said. The second soldier was killed in eastern Baghdad when a bomb exploded near his patrol, the military said.

    The deaths raised to at least 3,385, the members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.