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Iraq Transition

Iraqi leader denies civil war as 50 people die

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- On a day in which at least 50 people were killed, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he did not foresee a civil war in Iraq and that violence in his country was abating.

"In Iraq, we'll never be in civil war," al-Maliki told CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday.

Attacks on American troops around the Iraqi capital Sunday left six soldiers dead, the U.S. command in Baghdad reported.

Other violence nationwide left more than 130 wounded, local authorities said.

One U.S. soldier was killed by gunfire in eastern Baghdad about 2 p.m. Sunday (6 a.m. ET), while a second was killed by a roadside bomb on the city's west side about half an hour later, according to a U.S. military statement.

The other four soldiers died about 3 p.m., when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle north of Baghdad, the military reported.

U.S. commanders have poured thousands of additional troops into Baghdad in recent weeks in hopes of rolling back sectarian killings that have left thousands of Iraqis dead.

The latest combat deaths bring the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq to 2,621. Seven American civilian contractors of the military also have died in the conflict.

In other Baghdad violence, five people were killed and 10 were wounded by a bomb planted in a minibus, police said.

And a car bomb explosion outside Al-Sabah, Iraq's state-owned daily newspaper, killed two and wounded 20, an Iraqi emergency official said.

Despite Health Ministry figures that put the number of Iraqi civilians killed in July at about 3,400 -- more than double the 1,600 killed in January -- the prime minister said violence was decreasing in his country.

Al-Maliki did not dispute figures published in "The Economist" magazine that put unemployment at as high as 40 percent, with double-digit inflation and as much as 20 percent of the population in poverty.

"But this is a new Iraq, and inherited from the previous regime who left unemployment and destruction," said al-Maliki, who won power in December's elections.

Asked when coalition troops might leave, the Iraqi leader was equivocal.

"It could be a year or less, or a few months," he said. "This has to do with the -- with our success of the democratic -- or the political process in Iraq, and to have the security agencies to protect this process."

Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, disagreed with al-Maliki's assessment of the state of affairs in Iraq, saying the country was "on the verge of civil war right now," if not already involved in one.

Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for the United States to set a date to begin withdrawing its forces.

"We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves," he told CNN. "They're the ones that have got to decide -- do they want a civil war, or do they want a nation?"

Levin said President Bush should "prod" the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security.

"The only chance they have of defeating the insurgents is if they come together politically," he said.

But Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana said withdrawal of coalition forces could make an already bad situation worse.

"The idea, somehow, that civil war means that we leave is a non-starter, because Iraq's physical integrity is important," said Lugar, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

"By that I mean, if Iraq deteriorates and Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds begin picking up partners in other countries, then we have a conflagration that dwarfs anything which is occurring presently in the deteriorating problems of Iraq."

On Saturday, al-Maliki hosted a conference to bring about national reconciliation.

At least 400 people attended, including tribal leaders, politicians and government officials, an Iraqi Islamic party official said.

At the conference, al-Maliki told leaders there was no difference among Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Sunnis and Shiites because "we are all Iraqis," an official in the prime minister's office said.

But on Sunday night, gunmen killed 12 and wounded 25 in a market in the town of Khalis, 12 miles (20 km) north of Baquba, according to police.

On Sunday morning in the same town, a bombing in a market left six people dead and 15 wounded, police said.

In Baquba, two separate shooting incidents Sunday afternoon left six dead and 15 wounded, officials said.

In other attacks reported by security and hospital officials, two car bombings in the northern city of Kirkuk killed 10 and wounded 32, and a blast in the southern city of Basra killed five and injured 15.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

A woman walks by the offices of al-Sabah newspaper after the building was hit by a car bomb explosion on Sunday.



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