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Church bombs: Top insurgent blamed

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CNN's Matthew Chance reports on bombings in central Baghdad.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Deadly weekend attacks targeting Christian worshippers in Iraq bear the markings of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his operatives, Iraq's national security adviser said Monday.

According to Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the anti-Christian nature of the attacks and their apparent coordination point to al-Zarqawi, who has taken responsibility for numerous attacks against Iraqis, Americans and other foreigners.

Car bombings Sunday evening near four churches in Baghdad and one in the northern city of Mosul killed at least seven people.

In figures released Monday, the Iraqi Health Ministry said the Baghdad attacks killed five and wounded 46 others.

Hospital officials in Mosul said two people died in the car bombing, with another 15 wounded.

Earlier, the U.S. military and Iraqi police reported more deaths.

In blaming al-Zarqawi for the bombings, al-Rubaie said the insurgent leader and his group have several goals in staging the attacks:

  • To drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians in Iraq
  • To take advantage of a perception among some Iraqis that the nation's small Christian community, about 3 percent of the population, is helping the multinational forces in Iraq
  • To increase the anti-Christian feeling among Islamic radicals in the restive Sunni triangle region in order to increase pressure on Christians to leave Iraq
  • Al-Rubaie said the campaign echoes former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's efforts after the first Gulf War to impose stricter regulations on Christians.

    The action led to the departure of some 250,000 Christians, most of whom Al-Rubaie said were highly educated and highly skilled.

    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, also decried the "vicious" bombings and said "the Christian citizens' rights and other religious minorities' should be respected."

    According to the U.S. military, the blasts in Baghdad took place Sunday between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. ET).

    The largest was in the Karada neighborhood central Baghdad, where a car bomb exploded outside a church, leaving a crater more than 5 feet wide.

    Police and emergency workers responding to the first blast discovered a second car they suspected had been rigged as a bomb.

    The explosives in that vehicle detonated before they could be disarmed, according to police.

    The U.S. military said another makeshift bomb containing 15 mortar rounds was "found and cleared."

    Churches in the southern Baghdad neighborhoods of New Baghdad and Dura were also targeted, said a spokesman for the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division.

    A separate car bombing earlier Sunday killed five people and wounded 52 others, according to Mosul hospital officials.

    Shootout reported outside al-Sadr home

    The U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq denied a claim Monday by a spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr that U.S. forces were involved in an operation against the radical Shiite cleric.

    Sheikh Mahmoud al-Sudani, Baghdad-based spokesman for al-Sadr, said U.S. and Iraqi forces had surrounded al-Sadr's home in Al-Ishtiraki, a neighborhood of Najaf, about 6 p.m. (10 a.m. ET) and began firing at it. The Mehdi Army began to shoot back, and a gunbattle continued for hours, he said.

    He did not say whether al-Sadr was inside the home. He has two houses in the area, both fortified with heavy security.

    A senior official with the multinational forces said a group of U.S. Marines on the outskirts of Najaf was attacked with small arms and rocket propelled grenades, and the troops returned fire.

    Armed men on the outskirts of Najaf on Monday.

    It was not clear whether the incident may have taken place near al-Sadr's home or involved the Mehdi Army, but the official said the fighting was not extensive.

    The official said there were no planned operations against al-Sadr, and the Marines had not surrounded any homes.

    The official could not say whether Iraqi forces may have carried out an operation at al-Sadr's home.

    An Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman said he was unaware of plans for a major assault Monday in Najaf, but he acknowledged such an operation could have taken place.

    The Mehdi Army has battled U.S. soldiers for months in southern Iraq and Baghdad.

    Al-Sadr remains charged by an Iraqi court in the April 2003 murder of a rival cleric.

    Web site claims hostage killed

    An Islamist Web site posted a video Monday purportedly showing the killing of a Turkish hostage.

    Two truckers who work for a Turkish company were seized Saturday, according to a report on the Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera.

    The captors threatened to behead the hostages in 48 hours if their company did not pull out.

    After the video was posted Monday, a Turkish diplomat said the government could not confirm the reported killing until a body is recovered.

    The diplomat said, however, that statements heard on the video tape fit with the information Turkey has about the missing driver.

    After the video was posted Monday, the union the truckers belong to issued a statement saying it was pulling out of Iraq.

    "Considering the latest developments, the International Transporters Association [of Turkey] decided to stop transporting goods for U.S. troops in Iraq," the statement said.

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