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30-Minute Iraq Bomb Barrage Kills 47

A barrage of coordinated bomb and rocket attacks on eastern Baghdad neighborhoods killed at least 47 people and wounded more than 200 within half an hour on Thursday evening, police and hospital officials said.

The latest spasm of violence — which included explosives planted in residential apartments, car bombs and several rocket and mortar attacks on mainly Shiite neighborhoods in the capital — came as the prime minister said Iraqi forces should have control over most of the country by year's end.

But many Iraqis have little or no confidence in their new government's ability to reign in the attacks, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

"I need the government to support me," said Gen. Bashar Mahmod-Ayoud. "To disarm the militias, or to destroy completely the militias."

The Baghdad bombings brought the day's death toll across the country to at least 68.

Maj. Gen. Jihad Liaabi, director of the Interior Ministry's counter-terrorism unit, said that in part of Thursday evening's bombings, attackers had rented apartments and shops in buildings a few days ago and planted explosives in them, detonating them by remote control almost simultaneously.

One of the targeted buildings was a medical center housing private doctor's offices in al-Hamza Square on the outskirts of the Sadr City slum in east Baghdad, he told state television.

The attacks occurred between about 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and included a car bomb at a market, another car bomb behind a telephone exchange building and several rocket and mortar attacks, police said.

Police and witnesses said bodies, many of them charred, had still not been recovered from the buildings, and the death toll could increase.

Violence across Iraq has spiked in recent days, with more than 250 people killed since Sunday in clashes, bombings or shootings.

In other developments:

  • An al Qaeda-affiliated group Thursday branded the Iraqi government offers of reconciliation as "futile" and called on Sunnis to fight those who "legalized the shedding of Muslim blood." The statement appeared on a Web site used by the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni extremist groups that includes al Qaeda in Iraq. The statement said Sunnis in Iraq were facing aggressive attacks by the government and the Shiite militias and called for resistance.
  • President George W. Bush said Thursday the war against Islamic militants was like last century's fight against Nazis and communists and that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would lead to its conquest by America's worst enemies.
  • Earlier Thursday, a suicide car bomber killed two people at gas station, while a British Embassy convoy was targeted in the upscale Mansour neighborhood in western Baghdad. Two passers-by were injured in the convoy attack, police said.
  • The U.S. military also reported that an American soldier was killed in Anbar province on Wednesday by a bomb blast. According to an Associated Press count, that death brings to 16 the number of U.S. soldiers killed since Sunday.
  • Iraq's top archaeologist, a Christian, said he fled to neighboring Syria after Shiite Muslim fundamentalists interfered in his job and family members received threats. Donny George, director of Iraq's National Museum, said he was living in the Sunni-dominated southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, which has become a hotbed of militancy and sectarian violence.
  • Democrats chastised Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday for questioning the historical grasp of Bush administration war critics, accusing him of engaging in "dangerous business." Several members of Congress had been urging Rumsfeld's resignation before he asserted to the American Legion that opponents displayed the kind of thinking that delayed military action against Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.
  • But authorities said they were optimistic about the handover of security control.

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraqi forces will assume responsibility for Dhi Qar province in the south in September, making it the second of Iraq's 18 provinces that local forces would take control over.

    "This makes us optimistic and proud because we managed to fulfill our promise," al-Maliki said. Iraqi authorities took over Muthanna province in the south from the British in July.

    Dhi Qar is populated mainly by Shiite Muslims. Compared to more volatile areas such as Anbar province in the west and Baghdad, it has been spared much of the sectarian violence. However, U.S. commanders recently expressed concern about the growing influence of Shiite militias in the area, many of whom they say receive support from Iran.

    "This year will witness the handing over of other provinces, and we hope that by the end of the year, our security forces will take over most of the Iraqi provinces," al-Maliki said.

    The Defense Ministry said it would sign a memorandum with coalition forces on Saturday "about strategic control and operations." U.S. authorities said the Defense Ministry would begin assuming direct operational control of the country's armed forces.

    Handing over territory from coalition control to Iraqi control is a key part of any eventual drawdown of U.S. troops in the country.

    On Wednesday, top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. George Casey said Iraqi troops were on course to take over security control from U.S.-led coalition forces over the next 12-18 months with little coalition help.

    President Bush insisted American troops must remain in Iraq until the country's forces are capable of full control.

    "If America were to pull out before Iraq could defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable, and absolutely disastrous," Bush said as he began a pre-election series of speeches in the U.S.

    "We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies — Saddam's former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban," he said.

    Despite the rash of violence over the past week, U.S. officials have lauded the results of a security crackdown in the capital that they say has resulted in a dramatic fall in sectarian killings. They reported that the murder rate in Baghdad dropped almost 50 percent in August compared to July, but that figure could not be independently confirmed.

    The crackdown by Iraqi and U.S. forces began Aug. 7, targeting some of the capital's most problematic neighborhoods. In the past, similar operations have lowered violence for short periods of time, but attacks then escalate after American forces leave.

    In other violence Thursday, according to police:

    Gunmen in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killed two brothers in a cotton shop.

    Gunmen killed a police colonel and his bodyguard and wounded another bodyguard in Hibhib, 12 miles east of Baqouba.

    Police found the bodies of four men in southern Baqouba. All had been shot.

    Gunmen shot and killed a member of the oil ministry's security service and wounded another in Baghdad.

    An Iraqi soldier in civilian clothing was shot and killed in the city of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

    In Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, the bullet-riddled body of a young woman was brought to the morgue after being dumped on a main road.

    Gunmen killed a former intelligence official in Saddam Hussein's regime as he was walking in Mahaweel area, about 35 miles south of Baghdad.

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