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Iraq suicide blast kills 68

One dead in Baghdad rocket attack; 35 insurgents killed in As Suway

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Acts of terror

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- At least 68 Iraqis have been killed and more than 56 wounded in a suicide bombing at a marketplace near a police station in a day of violence around Baghdad, officials said.

Police recruits were waiting in line outside the station in the heart of the city of Baquba Wednesday when a Toyota mini bus exploded at around 9:40 a.m. (0540 GMT).

Twenty-one passengers on board a bus passing by were all killed when the mini bus blew up, said Sa'ad al-Amalii, the director general of the Health Ministry.

Officials said they expect the toll in the to rise in what has been described as the deadliest single bombing since the handover of sovereignty in late June.

One local health official put the number of wounded at 70.

In Cairo, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned the bombing, calling it "an attempt by murderers to deny the Iraqi people their dream."

"A peaceful country rests on a solid foundation of freedom." he said, speaking at a news conference. "They're killing Iraqis for the purpose of deny Iraqis basic freedoms that the rest of the world increasingly is enjoying."

Also Wednesday, an explosion on a Baghdad street nicknamed Little Fallujah -- after the town known for fierce fighting and anti-U.S. feeling -- left one dead and six wounded, police said. All of the casualties were Iraqis.

Meanwhile, 35 suspected insurgents and seven Iraqi forces died Wednesday in fierce fighting south of Baghdad, according to the Polish-led command. There were no coalition casualties.

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.

Charred bodies littered the street as police and civilians searched to separate the living from the dead.

All health workers and emergency medical vehicles from the surrounding area have been called to Baquba's main hospital to treat the casualties, according to local health official Dr. Fa'aisa Murad.

Before ambulances arrived, the wounded were loaded into the back of pickups for the trip to the hospital.

Baquba lies about 30 miles (48 km) north of Baghdad. A mixed Sunni and Shi'ite town, Baquba has been the scene of many attacks against coalition forces.

Meanwhile police said the apparent target of the mortar or rocket attack which left one dead and six wounded in "Little Fallujah," Baghdad, was a police station along Haifa Street, but the weapon missed its target. The blast was in front of a residential building and two cars on Haifa Street were burned in the explosion.

The latest attacks came as at least 42 people were killed in fighting in the area of As Suwayra in Wasit province, about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of the Iraqi capital.

It came as Ukrainian soldiers provided cover for a joint operation of Iraqi forces and the U.S. Army.

"During the operation, approximately 35 extremists were killed and above 40 were arrested," a news release said. The Iraqi casualties added up to seven killed and 10 injured. There were no multinational casualties.

There has been no let up in the violence since the Iraqi government took over from the U.S.-led occupation in late June, with insurgents targeting local police who are less well equipped than American troops.

The violence comes three days before a national conference with 1,000 delegates is set to begin in Baghdad on Saturday.

The delegates are set to choose a 100-person interim body that will advise and oversee the newly installed Iraqi interim government.

Iraq's transitional administrative law decrees that the national conference, which in some ways resembles the loya jirga helping to shape the government in Afghanistan, choose the interim council.

'No ransom'
Egyptian hostage Momdoh Kotb after being released by kidnappers.

Meanwhile, 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.

Masked men calling themselves the Lions of God Brigades abducted Momdoh Kotb, Egypt's third-highest ranking diplomat in Iraq, as he was leaving a mosque Thursday and released him Monday.

Two high-level sources in Baghdad told CNN the Egyptian government paid for Kotb's release.

Egypt "categorically denies any money [was] paid out to anybody," said Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to the United States.

Paying ransom "has never been our policy anywhere," Fahmy said.

"Our information is the Egyptian government remains steadfast in this manner," he said. ('No ransom paid')

Insurgents in Iraq still hold at least 11 other foreigners -- including an Egyptian trucker -- and one Iraqi while making demands that their companies cease cooperating with the U.S. military or end their operations in Iraq. (Full story)

Other developments

  • Vice President Dick Cheney told Marines Tuesday that the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein's government removed a "gathering threat" to the United States. Since the invasion, only a handful of aging chemical shells have turned up in Iraq, though a CIA-led survey has found evidence that Iraq concealed some banned weapons research from United Nations weapons inspectors.
  • Iraqi authorities displayed a collection of guns, missiles, rocket launchers, explosives, vehicles and uniforms Tuesday. The booty was the result of a raid on a suspected safe house in Baghdad. U.S. Marines also grabbed a large cache, discovering 219 60 mm mortar rounds concealed in bags of grain. The Marines said it was the largest cache of 60 mm rounds confiscated since they took control of Anbar province, which includes the hotspot cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, in March.
  • In a Tuesday interview with the Hungarian morning television program "Napkelte," Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hoped Hungary would keep its more than 350 troops, who drive trucks for humanitarian missions in Iraq, beyond their mandate, which ends December 31. (Full story)
  • CNN's Matthew Chance and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.

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