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Brazen Attacks Across Iraq Kill 47

The largest Sunni bloc in parliament said Tuesday it will lift a legislative boycott after a call for unity by a radical Shiite cleric and promises that a kidnapped legislator will be released, while bombings and shootings killed at least 47 people nationwide.

Gunmen also seized an Iraqi diplomat on leave from his post Iran as he was driving near his home in Baghdad. The Foreign Ministry said Wissam Jabr al-Awwadi was a consul in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, a city with a large Kurdish population near the border with Iraq.

The Iraqi Accordance Front suspended its participation in parliament meetings earlier this month after one of its members, Tayseer al-Mashhadani, was kidnapped in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. Many Sunnis blamed anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia for the kidnapping, although the organization has denied any involvement.

Al-Sadr has called for unity and a leading Sunni politician said the bloc was responding, in the first sign of accommodation by both sides amid a sharp rise in sectarian tensions.

"We have decided to attend the meetings as of tomorrow in response to the call by Muqtada al-Sadr," Adnan al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. Two of al-Mashhadani's guards were released last week.

Noureddine al-Hyali, another member of the bloc that holds 44 seats in the 275-member parliament, said that contacts had been made with the kidnappers and "we have received promises ... that Tayseer al-Mashhadani will be released within days." He quoted the kidnappers as saying "she is our guest," indicating that she was being well treated.

In other developments:

  • Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the sectarian violence in Iraq is reaching a critical phase. Biden, who has visited Iraq seven times, said Baghdad is "a city in tatters." Reed, just back from his eighth visit to Iraq, says the Iraqi leadership and U.S. forces need to address the problems with the country's emerging government, shattered economy and ruined infrastructure in order to prevent the violence from spiraling into an all-out conflict.
  • An al Qaeda-linked group claims it killed three U.S. soldiers last month and mutilated two of their bodies to avenge the rape-slaying of a young Iraqi woman by troops of the same unit, an institute which monitors extremists Web sites said Tuesday. The Mujahedeen Shura Council made the claim in a 4:39 minute video posted on the Internet.
  • Two defendants in the trial of Saddam Hussein made their closing arguments Tuesday before the judge adjourned the proceedings for nearly two weeks in an attempt to resolve a boycott of the court by the former Iraqi leader and his lawyers. Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman said the court would resume on July 24 and warned that if the lawyers did not return by then, court-appointed lawyers would make the final arguments for Saddam and three other top defendants in the case. CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports that U.S. experts have found powerful forensic evidence for the prosecution (video).
  • Gunmen in Baghdad intercepted a minivan carrying a coffin to the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Tuesday, killing all 10 people on board, police said. The attackers pulled up in two cars and ordered the minivan to stop before opening fire in the volatile southern neighborhood of Dora, police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said, providing the casualty toll.
  • Gunmen in three cars ambushed a Saudi Arabian import/export company in the upscale Mansour neighborhood in western Baghdad Tuesday, killing five Iraqi employees before fleeing, Capt. Jamil Hussein said.
  • Gunmen killed an engineer with Iraq's North Oil Co. and his driver in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad.

  • Earlier this month, Sunni politician Ayad al-Samaraie said that a group claiming to be holding al-Mashhadani demanded the release of 25 Shiites detained by U.S. forces in return for her freedom. The group also purportedly called for a timetable for withdrawing coalition troops, the release of all detainees and a halt to attacks on Shiite mosques.

    Al-Sadr aide Awas al-Khafaji denied that the Mahdi Army was behind the violence and accused the U.S. of trying to stoke sectarian tensions. He also warned that members of the armed group will defend themselves if attacked as the government has launched an apparent crackdown against the illegal militias.

    "Such irresponsible statements about the violence in Iraq are hurting the Iraqis," he told reporters in Najaf. "What is happening in Iraq is a U.S. plot to target the patriotic elements in Iraq and this is shown through the attempts to create a gap between al-Mahdi Army and the Sunnis."

    A series of brazen attacks struck the Baghdad area and northern Iraq, killing at least 47 people and wounding more than 65.

    Gunmen in the capital intercepted a minivan with Shiite passengers planning to carry a coffin to the holy city of Najaf. All 10 people on board were killed in the attack in the volatile southern neighborhood of Dora, police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.

    A parked car bomb followed by a suicide attacker on foot struck a restaurant frequented by police near the heavily guarded Green Zone later Tuesday, killing at least five people and wounding 10, Lt. Mohammed Khayoun said.

    The blast occurred about 200 yards from the entrance to the Green Zone, the fortified area that houses the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government offices.

    AP Television News footage showed U.S. and Iraqi forces at the site of the blast, with rubble piled up outside the restaurant. Three Iraqi men carried away a body in a blanket.

    A bomb planted under a fuel tanker exploded between a market and a medical center in the southeastern Baghdad suburb of Nahrawan, killing two people and wounding 18, Lt. Bilal Ali said. It sparked a fire, but the blaze was extinguished by firefighters, Ali said.

    A parked car bomb also exploded in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karradah, killing two people and wounding six, he said.

    Northeast of Baghdad, gunmen in a speeding car fired randomly at some textile shops in Baqouba, killing two shop owners and wounding four others, police said.

    Clashes between Iraqi forces and insurgents broke out near the northwestern city of Mosul. Brig. Khalaf al-Jubour said 10 policemen who were part of an oil-protection force were killed in the fighting near Sharqat, 45 miles south of Mosul.

    Police also said gunmen opened fire on an Iraqi army convoy near Sharqat on Monday evening, killing nine soldiers and wounding three.