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Dozens Dead In Baghdad Bus Blast

A suicide bomber who jumped on a bus after security checks had been completed detonated an explosives belt among passengers heading to a Shiite city Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding more than 40, officials said.

Most of those killed were on the bus, which was gutted by flames, but several people gathered around a nearby food stall were also killed, police said. A hospital official said at least 37 people were injured.

Police said the attacker waited until the bus was slowly pulling away from the station, then jumped on board to avoid security checks. Police said the death toll was especially high because the blast triggered secondary explosions in gas cylinders stored at the food stall.

The blast occurred a week before national elections, and officials had warned of a surge in violence ahead of the balloting.

Several other explosions rumbled through the heart of the capital Thursday morning, including one that struck an American convoy and killed a U.S. soldier, the military said. The latest death raised the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003 to at least 2,131, according to an Associated Press count.

In other developments:

  • An Iraqi insurgent group has claimed on an Internet posting that it has killed an American hostage. A video claiming the insurgents had kidnapped a U.S. security consultant was broadcast on Al-Jazeera Tuesday and showed a blond, Western-looking man sitting with his hands tied behind his back. The authenticity of the video could not be immediately confirmed and it bore the logo of the Islamic Army in Iraq and showed a U.S. passport and an identification card that identified the hostage as Ronald Schulz.
  • Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Thursday raised the possibility of reducing U.S. troop levels in Iraq next year below the 137,000 baseline. Rumsfeld told reporters that if next week's elections in Iraq go well he expects U.S. troops levels, which were boosted to nearly 160,000 in advance of the election, to return to the 137,000 level. "If conditions permit, we could go below that," he said.
  • A U.S. soldier in Iraq was charged with murdering a fellow serviceman and trying to kill another following an argument last month. An Army spokesman said Wednesday that Spc. Chris Rolan used a military-issue 9 mm handgun to fatally shoot 20-year-old Pvt. Dylan Paytas, of Freedom, on Nov. 16 in Baqubah, Iraq. Rolan was also accused of attempted homicide in the shooting or attempted shooting of another soldier.
  • Three men threatened Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer as he boarded a plane Thursday from Baghdad to Jordan and were removed from the flight, the attorney said. Khalil Dulaimi did not say how the men threatened him. He did not identify the men but said "I know them well." Saddam's trial was delayed Wednesday after the ousted president refused to attend the session.
  • President Bush, giving the second of a planned four speeches on his war strategy, said Wednesday that there has been "quiet, steady progress" in Iraq but conceded the reconstruction effort has been "uneven."
  • Japan's Cabinet extended its troop deployment in Iraq for one year on Thursday, defying rising domestic opposition to the humanitarian mission and vowing to help stabilize the war-torn country.

    Witnesses told police that the suicide bomber left a car, boarded the packed bus and blew himself up as it was leaving for Nasiriyah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, police Lt. Ali Mitaab said.


  • Fire swept through the bus, trapping passengers who had been headed to the southern city for the weekend, which starts here on Thursday evening. Charred corpses were left in the seats, their faces starring out through the shattered windows. Police climbed over the top of the vehicle inspecting what remained of luggage.

    "As the bus was going outside the station, a man carrying a bag tried to got into the bus, but the conductor was suspicious about him," police Lt. Wisam Hakim said. "He tried to stop him but the man insisted. He sat in the middle of the bus and then the explosion took place."

    The attack occurred at the major bus station for vehicles headed to the mostly Shiite areas of the south.

    Last August the station was the scene of a horrific triple car bombing that killed at least 43 people and wounded 89.

    Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Thursday appealed again for communication from a previously unknown group holding four peace activists.

    "If the kidnappers want to get in touch with us, we want to hear what they have to say," Straw said in a brief statement outside the prime minister's office. "We have people in Iraq itself and in the region, and they are ready to hear from the kidnappers."

    Norman Kember, 74, of London, Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va., and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, were taken hostage in Baghdad two weeks ago. The four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams were seized by the previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigade.

    Their kidnappers on Wednesday extended a deadline until Saturday in their threat to kill the four. The captors also posted a video of two of the hostages wearing orange jumpsuits and shackled with chains.

    The original deadline set by the group was Thursday. The extension was announced in a statement that accompanied Wednesday's video, according to Al-Jazeera and IntelCenter, a government contractor that does support work for the U.S. intelligence community.

    They four are among seven Westerners who have been abducted in Iraq since Nov. 25. The other hostages are an American, a German and a Frenchman.

    Videotape of the Christian peace activists provided by IntelCenter to AP Television News showed two men, who were blindfolded and shackled. The men were not identified, but still photos from IntelCenter showed they were Fox and Kember. The two other hostages were not shown.

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