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Al-Zarqawi group claims bombings

Agreement said 'very close' on new U.N. resolution

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A group that says it is led by fugitive Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for two suicide car bombings Sunday that killed eight Iraqis, the U.S. military said.

In a separate incident, a mortar attack Sunday evening on a U.S. base at Balad near Baghdad killed one soldier and wounded another, U.S. Central Command said. Both soldiers were assigned to the 13th Corps Support Command.

The death brought the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq to 827 since the war began, including 608 in combat.

The suicide bombings wounded 48 others near a coalition base north of Baghdad, according to Iraqi police Brig. Gen. Jamal Abdulla. Among the wounded were two coalition soldiers, the coalition press office said.

A statement from the Unification and Jihad Group posted on an Islamist Web site said two Iraqi "martyrs" blew themselves up in attacks on the base in Taji and an adjacent Iraqi police station.

The statement said the bombers targeted the police station because the officers there were "working hand-in-hand with the crusaders and the occupiers."

The group claims to be made up of followers of al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Islamic militant U.S. officials say has close ties to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

U.S. officials say al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on U.S. troops, Iraqi civilians and others, including the August 2003 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

They also blame him for the videotaped beheading of American businessman Nicholas Berg in May, and the U.S. government has put a $10 million price on his head.

In other attacks over the weekend, two Polish civilian contractors and two Americans were killed Saturday when their convoy was ambushed near the Baghdad airport.

The Polish contractors were employees of Blackwater Security Co. of North Carolina, according to the Polish charge d'affaires in Iraq, Tomasz Gielzecki.

Four Blackwater employees were killed and their corpses mutilated by a mob in Fallujah, Iraq, on March 31.

The British Foreign Office said a British national was killed Saturday in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mosul.

Elsewhere in Mosul, suspected insurgents armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades wounded at least 17 Iraqis lined up to apply for jobs with the country's new army Saturday, police said.

U.N. agreement said close

A spokesman for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Sunday the chancellor expected an agreement on new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq before the start of the G-8 economic summit Tuesday on Sea Island, Georgia.

U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice echoed that sentiment, saying council members were "very close" to an agreement. The resolution would set up a framework for the political and security transition of Iraq.

"There are some final things that have to be done with the resolution, but I'm quite certain that within a few days, we are going to be able to come to conclusion," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday."

The United States is hopeful a vote on the new resolution could be taken Tuesday night, a U.S. official said.

American diplomats will distribute a new draft resolution to council members Monday that makes minor changes in the language of a draft introduced Friday, a U.S. official said.

In the Friday draft, the United States agreed that the new Iraqi government, which will take power at the end of the month, should be able to ask the international force to leave at any time.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Secretary of State Colin Powell have exchanged letters detailing how the new Iraqi administration and security forces would work together to achieve what Allawi called a "full partnership ... through close coordination and consultation."

The letters are expected to be attached to the new resolution in an attempt to assuage concerns from some Security Council members that the resolution did not spell out those arrangements in sufficient detail.

Several countries, including Russia, China and France, three countries with veto power on the Security Council, have also pushed to give Iraq the right to veto military operations by the international force.

But Iraq's new foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said Thursday that while the Iraqis want to be consulted on major military operations, they are not seeking a veto.

Najaf, Kufa fighting fizzles

Pitched battles in Najaf and Kufa between U.S. forces and Muqtada al-Sadr's militia have fizzled out, restoring security in the volatile southern Iraqi region, a coalition spokesman said.

Dan Senor, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, said members of the al-Sadr's Mehdi Army were withdrawing from the streets of Kufa and Najaf, where fighting has raged for weeks.

"The situation in Najaf has improved significantly" since Friday, when a truce deal went into effect, Senor said Saturday.

"Iraqis are back on the streets. There's traffic. There's commerce. People are going about their daily lives in a way that they have not in a number of weeks," Senor told reporters. A mood of "cautious optimism prevails," he said.

Mehdi Army's fighters, Senor said, "have virtually disappeared from the streets, including the old city of Najaf."

Senor said the coalition continues to maintain that al-Sadr, wanted in connection with the killing of a rival cleric, should be brought to justice and that the militia should be disbanded and disarmed.

CNN's Liz Neisloss, Chris Burns, Kevin Flower, Stephanie Halasz and Guy Raz contributed to this report.

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