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Iraq Transition

Baghdad rocket attacks kill dozens

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Mortar attacks and bombings killed at least 46 people and wounded 255 others Thursday across the Iraqi capital in the latest wave of apparent sectarian violence, police officials said.

The violence came as U.S. President Bush launched a new series of domestic speeches amid flagging support for the war, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Iraqi security forces will take over a southern province next month.

At least five attacks using Katyusha rockets hit four neighborhoods in southeastern Baghdad and another in northern Baghdad Thursday evening, killing 44 people and wounding at least 255, the Iraqi Health Ministry said.

The mortars hit the mostly Shiite neighborhoods around 7:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m. ET).

The blasts destroyed six residential buildings in the five neighborhoods and are under investigation, according to an official with the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

Earlier, a car bomb in another southeastern Baghdad neighborhood killed two people and wounded 13, police said. It occurred near a gas station in the neighborhood of Mashtal.

The attacks occurred as Iraqi and U.S. security forces press ahead with an extensive security crackdown in the capital. (Watch Iraqis seek treatment, hope lull in attacks will last -- 2:36)

And they come during a particularly violent week in Iraq -- with more than 250 Iraqis and 17 U.S. soldiers killed in violence since Sunday. Sixty-three U.S. soldiers have been killed in the month of August.

The U.S. military said Thursday that a Marine and a U.S. soldier died a day earlier "due to enemy action" during operations in Anbar province.

The deaths bring to 2,633 the number of American service members who have died in the Iraq war. Seven American civilian contractors of the military also have died in the conflict.

Thursday's violence came after insurgents launched a string of bombings Wednesday in Baghdad and the nearby provinces of Diyala and Babil, killing at least 47 people and wounding more than 100 others, emergency officials said.

Other Baghdad bombings Thursday wounded at least seven people, police said.

On Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad, three people were wounded when a bomb exploded near a restaurant. A car bomb exploded near a police patrol in Harthiya, a neighborhood in central Baghdad, and wounded at least four people, including two police officers.

The Shiite province to be handed over to Iraqi forces next month hasn't faced the raging violence common in Baghdad and in other locations.

Al-Maliki said Iraqi forces will assume leadership responsibility in Thiqar province and that "this year will also witness the transfer of responsibility in other provinces."

Iraqis took control of security in Muthanna province from the British last month.

"The transfer of responsibility gives us confidence that we become closer to taking over overall security responsibility throughout Iraq," al-Maliki said in a statement from his office.

Bush on Thursday praised al-Maliki for his "courage" and again asserted that the battle for Iraq is the "central front in our fight against terrorism." (Watch Bush position Iraq war in broader context -- 2:04)

In a speech before the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, Bush likened the effort to World War II and the Cold War and warned that failure to persevere will lead terrorists to take their battle to U.S. shores. (Full story)

Some Democrats disputed Bush's claim that the Iraq war is essential to the fight against terrorism.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in a written statement called for "beginning the redeployment of troops from Iraq, refocusing our efforts on the war on terror and protecting Americans from terrorism here at home."

CNN's Nic Robertson and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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