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Dozens Of Deaths Raise Iraq's Death Toll

Assassins killed a popular Baghdad television comedian and a professor at a university south of the capital on Monday, but failed in attempts to kill two government officials as the country's leader met with Syria's foreign minister about improving security and reopening diplomatic relations.

In all, 20 Iraqis were killed in a series of attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi and Baqouba, and the bodies of 25 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured were found on the streets of the capital and in Dujail, north of Baghdad, police said.

The attacks raised Iraq's death toll to at least 1,368 already in November, well above the 1,216 who died in all of October, which was the deadliest month in Iraq since The Associated Press began tracking the figure in April 2005.

The actual totals are likely considerably higher because many deaths are not reported. Victims in those cases are quickly buried according to Muslim custom and never reach morgues or hospitals to be counted.

In other developments:

  • President Bush said Monday that he hasn't decided yet on whether to send more U.S. troops to Iraq or to begin bringing them home, saying he is awaiting recommendations from the military. He made the comment during a joint news conference in Indonesia's presidential palace with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
  • British and Iraqi forces raided homes in southern Iraq on Monday and arrested four suspects in the kidnapping of four American security guards and their Austrian co-worker, an official said. The raid, which began late Sunday and ended early Monday morning, took place in Zubair, a mostly Sunni-Arab enclave about 20 miles south of Basra, the British military spokesman said.
  • Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met privately with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem on Monday during the second and final day of Moallem's visit to Iraq. "There is a very strong Syrian desire to develop relations between the two countries. Stability and security in Iraq means stability and security in Syria and other countries in the region," Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al-Dabagh said.
  • A U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Saturday night and a U.S. Marine died during combat in Anbar province on Sunday, the military said, raising to at least 2,865 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war. This month in Iraq, 47 American service members have been killed or died.

    Minister of State Mohammed Abbas Auraibi, a member of Iraq's Shiite majority, said a roadside bomb hit his convoy at about 9:30 a.m. Monday as it was driving on a highway in eastern Baghdad, wounding two of his bodyguards.

    "I was returning from an official visit to Amarah when our convoy was attacked," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Thank God the two guards were only slightly injured."

    Amarah is a mostly Shiite city 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.

    Hakim al-Zamily, a Shiite deputy health minister, also escaped unhurt when gunmen opened fire on his convoy in downtown Baghdad at noon on Monday, killing two of his guards, the minister said.

    The attacks came one day after suspected Sunni Muslim insurgents kidnapped another deputy health minister, Shiite Ammar al-Saffar, from his home in northern Baghdad, the Iraqi army and police reported. They said the gunmen wore police uniforms and arrived in seven vehicles to abduct al-Saffar, who was believed to be the senior-most government official kidnapped in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

    Al-Saffar was snatched nearly a week after dozens of suspected Shiite militia gunmen in police uniforms kidnapped scores of people from a Ministry of Higher Education office in Baghdad. That ministry is predominantly Sunni.

    The civilian victims of Monday's widespread attacks in Iraq included actor Walid Hassan, a famous comedian on al-Sharqiya TV who was shot while driving in western Baghdad. He had performed in a comedy series called "Caricature," which mocked coalition forces and the Iraqi governments since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

    Assailants also shot to death Fulayeh al-Ghurabi, a Shiite professor at Babil University in the province south of Baghdad, as he was driving home from the school at midday, police said.

    When Syria's Moallem arrived on his groundbreaking diplomatic mission Sunday, the highest level Syrian official ever to visit Iraq since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, he called for a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces to help end Iraq's sectarian bloodbath.

    Syria and Iraq share a long and porous desert border and both Baghdad and Washington have accused Damascus of not doing enough to stop the flow of foreign Arab fighters.

    For the second time in two days, coalition forces raided Sadr City in Baghdad on Monday. The stronghold of a Shiite militia is suspected of having carried out the mass kidnaping at the Ministry of Higher Education.

    Iraqi forces searched and damaged a mosque during the operation, but made no arrests, the U.S. military said. The Iraqi forces, acting with the assistance of U.S. military advisers, also destroyed a vehicle near the mosque that was posing a threat to the ground forces, the coalition said.

    Iraqi and U.S. forces suffered no casualties.

    In Sadr City, witnesses and an official at the main office of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told the AP that in addition to the mosque, coalition forces searched several homes, arrested three Iraqis and briefly clashed with Mahdi Army militiamen. Speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern for their own security, the witnesses and official said the raid began at about 3 a.m.

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