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Iraq suicide blast kills 68

Militants claim to kill two Pakistanis, Al-Jazeera reports


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Baquba rocked by suicide attack. Matthew Chance reports

Suicide car bomb explodes near a Baquba police station.

35 suspected insurgents, 7 Iraqi forces die in battle.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi forces, insurgents, civilians and three U.S. service members lost their lives in violence Wednesday, among them at least 68 in a Baquba suicide bombing and 42 in fighting in south-central Iraq.

In addition, an Iraqi was killed in a blast near a Baghdad police station and an enemy combatant died in fighting in Ramadi.

In the Baquba attack, police said the bomber drove a Toyota mini-bus into a marketplace near a police station, where would-be recruits were lined up outside, and detonated the explosives.

Among those killed were 21 passengers on a bus driving by. At least 56 others were wounded.

The Baquba suicide blast was so intense it shattered glass in nearby cafes, ripped facades off buildings and set fire to other vehicles, video from the scene showed.

Meanwhile, three U.S. soldiers died Wednesday in two separate attacks.

Two U.S. service members died of wounds received in fighting in the Sunni Triangle town of Ramadi, the U.S. military said. Eight others were wounded and an "enemy combatant" was killed, the military said.

In Baghdad, a makeshift bomb killed a U.S. soldier serving with Task Force Baghdad, the coalition press office said. Three other soldiers and a civilian were wounded in the attack.

The deaths bring the number of U.S. troop fatalities to 911 in the war in Iraq. Of those, 676 deaths were combat-related and 235 were non-combat incidents, according to the U.S. military.

In other violence Wednesday:

  • Thirty-five suspected insurgents and seven Iraqi forces died in a battle in As Suwayra in Wasit province south of Baghdad, according to the Polish-led command. The fighting came during a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation. Forty arrests were made by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
  • An explosion left one Iraqi dead and six others wounded in Baghdad.
  • Two Pakistanis reported killed

    The Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera reported Wednesday that a group calling itself the Islamic Army had released video showing the bodies of two Pakistani men it had taken hostage. The network did not broadcast the tape.

    Al-Jazeera reported the group said it had released a third hostage -- an Iraqi -- because "he repented." The capture of the three men, who worked for the Kuwaiti company Al-Tamimi, was announced last Monday.

    The dead Pakistanis were identified as Raja Azad, 49, an engineer, and Sajad Naeem, 29, a driver.

    The militants said the men were killed because Pakistan had announced it is considering sending troops to Iraq. They threatened to kill more of the company's employees if it does not stop doing business in Iraq.

    Meanwhile, a Kuwaiti company negotiating the release of seven truck drivers kidnapped Wednesday said negotiations were "going very good."

    "We are just waiting now," said a representative of Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Co.

    The seven drivers -- three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian -- are being held by a group calling itself the Islamic Secret Army, Black Banners Brigades. (Full story)

    Two Jordanian drivers were kidnapped Monday by a group that calls itself the Mujahedeen Corps. The kidnappers demanded that the drilling and contracting company the men work for in Iraq stop doing business with the U.S. military.

    Saudi troop proposal discussed

    Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said he and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed a Saudi proposal Wednesday to send Muslim troops to Iraq.

    Al-Faisal did not elaborate on the discussions, which took place in Jeddah during Powell's visit to the Saudi city.

    A senior State Department official said, "We're interested. It could be useful." The official said the Muslim troops would supplement coalition troops.

    Arab sources said talks on details of the plan were already under way with the United Nations. Those talks deal with the parameters that would apply, they said.

    Insurgents in Iraq have warned Arab nations that they would oppose Muslim troops just as they currently oppose Western troops in the country.

    Earlier in the day, Powell met with Egyptian officials in Cairo to discuss the country's offer to help train Iraqi forces and the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. (Full story)

    Other developments

  • A three-day national conference is scheduled to begin Saturday that will choose a 100-person interim body to advise and oversee the interim government. The conference will be made up of 1,000 people representing every province and all walks of life, including political parties, tribal leaders, unions, professional groups, universities and religious leaders.
  • Egyptian officials in Cairo and Washington dismissed a CNN report Tuesday that their government paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom for the release of an Egyptian diplomat in Iraq. ('No ransom paid')
  • British soldiers battered Iraqi prisoners and demanded they "dance like Michael Jackson," lawyers for families of six Iraqis allegedly killed by UK troops said in London as they sought to force an independent inquiry into the deaths. (Full story)
  • CNN's Matthew Chance, Alphonso Van Marsh and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.


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