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Wave of suicide blasts kills at least 25

Al-Zarqawi network claims responsibility on Web sites

An Australian soldier secures the scene after a bombing Wednesday near the Australian Embassy.
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U.S. forces do reconnaissance of Iraqi polling places.

Four suicide car bombings go off in 90-minute span.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A series of car bombs in Iraq have underlined the ability of insurgents to launch deadly attacks, just days before election.

In 90 minutes, four suicide car bombings Wednesday killed at least 25 Iraqis in and around Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

The terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has ties to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the bombings in postings on several Islamist Web sites.

The first bombing occurred at 7 a.m. (11 p.m. ET Tuesday) near the Australian Embassy in southern Baghdad.

The blast killed an Iraqi civilian and wounded several others, including two Australian soldiers, according to a U.S. military statement.

About 30 minutes later, another suicide car bombing hit near the al-Alahi hospital in central Baghdad, killing 18 Iraqis -- including five police -- and wounding at least 15 others, the statement said.

A third suicide attack shortly after 8a.m. occurred at a control point south of Baghdad International Airport. The explosion killed two Iraqi security guards and wounded three.

U.S. soldiers found and detonated another car bomb on the road leading to Baghdad's airport, said Col. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry.

About 15 minutes later, a fourth suicide attacker struck near the southern checkpoint of the Al-Muthana airport, which is being used as an Iraqi Army base. Four died in that attack -- two civilians and two soldiers -- the statement said. A U.S. soldier was wounded.

Despite the loss of life, Murray said all of the suicide bombers failed to hit their intended targets.

"Out of the four car bombs in Baghdad ... in every case, there was an Iraqi soldier either from the Iraqi army or the Iraqi national guard or an Iraqi policemen that prevented that car bomb from getting to its intended target," Murray said.

"As tragic as it is, there were some Iraqi security forces that paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect their countrymen, the same way that they're going to do on election day."

South of Baghdad, a car bomb detonated Wednesday morning about 12 miles (20 km) north of Hilla, killing an Iraqi policeman and seriously wounding two others, according to a news release from Multi-National Forces. The attack happened on the route between al-Mahawil and al-Musayyb, the statement said.

Meanwhile, police say gunmen in Beiji killed two Iraqi policemen and kidnapped a Japanese engineer.

Few other details have been released.

Beijing has sent officials to try to help win the release of eight kidnapped Chinese workers, Xinhua news agency has reported.

Kidnappers said China must clarify its intentions in Iraq within 48 hours, or the workers would be killed.

Other developments

  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday described pictures of Iraqis apparently being abused by British soldiers as "shocking and appalling." The pictures, released by prosecutors at the court martial of three British soldiers, were discovered when laboratory technicians phoned police after a soldier took them to be developed. (Full story)
  • Authorities will not disclose the locations of polling places in Falluja and other towns in al Anbar province until shortly before the January 30 election, said U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler. Polling locations will be opened near most of the estimated half-million voting-age Iraqis living in the province. But officials do not want to give insurgents time to plan attacks against voters or polling places.
  • In advance of the election, Iraq's leadership plans to seal the nation's borders to thwart any plans to disrupt voting. Closing Iraq's perimeter January 29 to 31 is one of the latest efforts to reduce risks to people planning to cast ballots for a 275-member transitional national assembly.
  • CNN's Nermeen al-Mufti, Arwa Damon, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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