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Violence Flares On Baghdad Street

Simultaneous suicide and roadside bomb blasts in the same Baghdad street killed at least 23 Iraqis and wounded 26 on Thursday, police and hospital officials said.

A man with an explosives belt strapped around his waist walked into a crowded coffee shop on Saadoun Street and detonated his bomb, said police Maj. Mohammed Younis.

Just seconds later, a bomb planted underneath a parked car outside the nearby al-Mathak restaurant exploded, killing at least four people and wounding five, including two women, Younis added.

Alaa Abid Ali, a medic at Baghdad's Kindi Hospital, said 16 bodies have been received from the attack scene.

The attacks occurred as the government's election commission prepared to announce results of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, possibly as early as Friday. The Interior Ministry said the number of troops and police on the streets would be sharply increased ahead of the announcement.

In other developments:

  • The mother of abducted American journalist Jill Carroll appealed for her daughter's release after her captors threatened to kill her if U.S. authorities don't release all Iraqi women in military custody. Mary Beth Carroll told CNN that video of her daughter gave her hope that she is alive but also have "shaken us about her fate." Video images showing Carroll surrounded by armed and masked hostage-takers were shown Thursday by Al-Jazeera.
  • Iraq has asked U.S. authorities to release six of the eight Iraqi females in military custody but not as part of a bid to free a kidnapped American female journalist, a government official said Thursday.
  • Numerous violations and reports of fraud marred Iraq's Dec. 15 elections, an international assessment team said in a report released Thursday, but it did not question the final results. The International Mission for Iraqi Elections, a 10-nation monitoring body led by Canada, recommended changes for future elections but made no call for repeating any voting from the December vote.
  • Thirty people were dragged from their cars at crude checkpoints erected on unpaved roads Wednesday and shot dead execution-style in farming areas in Nibaei, a town near Dujail, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, said police Lt. Qahtan al-Hashmawi.

    Amidst the growing violence, Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician predicted Thursday that Sunni Arab participation alone in a new government will not be enough to convince Islamic extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists to abandon the insurgency.

    Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the country's largest Shiite party, told The Associated Press in an interview that Sunni Arabs must accept the "new reality" in Iraq and shoulder their responsibility to rebuild the nation nearly three years after the collapse of Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.

    "Every day we are getting closer to accepting this reality. But there are some groups that will not accept this," al-Hakim said, citing religious extremists and Saddam loyalists. "Those people will continue confronting the government...Those people should be confronted firmly by the government."

    Al-Hakim's party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is the senior partner in an alliance of Shiite religious parties expected to claim the biggest number of seats in the new, 275-member parliament but not enough to govern without partners.

    After the election results are announced, the new parliament will convene to choose a government expected to include Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs, the disaffected community that forms the backbone of the insurgency.

    U.S. officials hope the new leadership will win the trust of the Sunnis and defuse the insurgency so that American and other international troops can begin to go home.

    Al-Hakim agreed that Sunni Arabs should receive key posts in the new government. But he added that placing Sunnis "in this or that post" would "not have a big impact" in easing the security crisis.

    "The important thing is that they (Sunnis) believe there is a new reality in Iraq," al-Hakim said. "The doors are open to them and no one wants to confront, harm them or deprive them of their legitimate constitutional rights. They are our brothers and they will get their rights."

    Sunni Arabs, believed to comprise about 20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people, dominated political life for generations, and many of them resent the rise to power of the Shiite majority, which suffered under Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.