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Iraq Transition

Bombs kill 20 Iraqis as U.S. monthly toll hits 100

Story Highlights

NEW: 100th U.S. soldier killed in month of December, military says
• NEW: McClatchy reporter says there is video of abducted contractors
• NEW: The contractors are alive, the newspaper chain says
• Police in Baghdad find 41 bullet-riddled bodies
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Five bombs, including two that exploded simultaneously, killed at least 20 Iraqis and wounded 67 in and around Baghdad on Thursday morning, according to the Interior Ministry.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. military announced that a Marine was killed Tuesday in Anbar province. The death brings the total of American troops killed in Iraq in December to 100 -- the fifth highest monthly total since the war began.

Earlier Thursday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of another Marine and four soldiers.

The number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war now stands at 2,989.

The first two of the five bombings that killed and wounded Iraqis happened along a street in a busy market in central Baghdad's Bab al-Sharqi area.

The twin explosions killed seven people and wounded 35, an Interior Ministry official said.

A roadside bomb blast near Baghdad's Shaab Stadium killed at least 10 people and wounded 25, the official said.

Two people died and four were hurt by another roadside bomb in southern Baghdad, he said.

And roadside bombing in the town of Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad, killed one and wounded three, he said.

Police in Baghdad also found 41 bullet-riddled bodies there Thursday, the official told CNN.

Most of the victims were bound, blindfolded and showed signs of torture.

Meanwhile, tensions grew over the impending execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. (Watch what Hussein's telling Iraqis in his farewell letter Video)

It must be carried out before January 27, and could happen any day. (Full story)

Video of abducted contractors

McClatchy Newspapers Baghdad reporter Hannah Allam is reporting that she has seen a videotape showing four U.S. security contractors and an Austrian co-worker abducted six weeks ago in Iraq.

The footage is said to be a month old.

The hostages appear to be in good condition, the U.S. newspaper chain reports.

Allam was shown the footage "on condition that the provider's name and other details be withheld for security reasons."

She did not say how she determined that the tape had been shot two weeks after the November 16 abduction of the men during an ambush in the southern Iraqi town of Safwan.

In the video, which lasts nearly one and a half minutes, each man makes a similar plea: that U.S. military forces leave Iraq.

In places the audio quality is poor and the sound garbled. The newspaper quoted each speaker:

"My name is John Young. I am 44 years old. I am from Kansas City, Missouri. I worked in private security in Iraq. I am asking people in my country to please help me and my friends out of Iraq and to pressure the government to remove troops from Iraq."

"My name is Jonathan Cote. I am 23, from Gainesville, Florida. I work for a private security company. I am asking the American people to put pressure on the government to leave Iraq to help me and my friends to get out of here."

Allam describes Cote as the sole hostage with any sign of injury -- "slight bruising and swelling around his nose and red blotches on his face."

A man thought to be Bert Nussbaumer, 25, of Vienna, Austria, said, "I want you to get me and my friends out of Iraq," the story said.

Two other men appear.

"My name is Josh Munz from California, USA. I was in the United States Marine Corps in Haditha and Falluja."

The last man is presumed to be Paul Reuben, a former Minnesota police officer.

"I am Paul. I am 39 years old. I am not quite sure of today's date," he said. "I am from Buffalo, Minnesota. I am married. I have twin daughters and they're 16. I have a stepson that's 16, and I am asking America to release us by getting our troops out of America. (Pause) I'm sorry, out of Iraq."

Allam said the video was made "in response to a demand for proof that the men were alive before negotiations for their release could begin."

The person who provided the clip "was confident that the men are still living and remain in the hands of a little-known Shiite Muslim militant group that calls itself the 'Mujahedeen of Jerusalem Company,' " she wrote without elaboration.

The men work for the Kuwait-based Crescent Security Group, which conducts convoy escort duties.

The video of the first three men is separated from that of the last two men by an edit, Allam said, meaning that the tape could have been shot in different locations.

McClatchy said it also had given a copy of the audio recording to Crescent Security on Wednesday "so that relatives wouldn't be caught by surprise."

Coalition soldier kills al-Sadr aide

Meanwhile in Iraq, a suspected insurgent cell leader killed by a coalition soldier in a raid near Najaf on Wednesday was an aide to militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an al-Sadr spokesman in Najaf told CNN.

Iraqi troops and coalition advisers conducted the raid to arrest Saheb al-Ameri in Abu Sukhayr, just southeast of Najaf, just days after the U.S. military handed control of the southern province to Iraqi forces.

A U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, on Wednesday described the 48-year-old al-Ameri as a home-made bomb "facilitator who conducted illegal activities."

"The purpose for going after him is because of the illegal activities that he was conducting, not because he was associated with any particular organization," Caldwell said.

Najaf police said U.S. forces "assassinated" al-Amiri and denied Iraqi Security Force involvement in the raid on his house.

U.S. forces say they knew of the raid only after seeing the area cordoned off and that al-Amiri was standing at the front door when he was killed, with his family inside the home.

A friend of al-Ameri who did not want to be identified gave CNN a different account by telephone from Najaf, saying both Iraqi and U.S. soldiers raided the man's home.

Al-Ameri's son opened the door when his dad saw soldiers storming in, and the father went up the stairs, the friend said. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers followed him, and a U.S. soldier shot him in the chest, the friend said.

Al-Ameri was a lawyer by training and headed the Shaheed Allah cultural institute, which published a newspaper, the friend said.

"Yes, he was a member of the Sadr movement but certainly a very moderate member of the movement," the friend said.

Al-Ameri often issued statements on behalf of al-Sadr, the friend said.

Other developments

  • President Bush said "good progress" was being made on a new Iraq strategy but also noted he was seeking more advice before announcing the final plan next month. "As I think about this plan, I always have our troops in mind," he said Thursday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. (Full story)
  • The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said Thursday it is working for the release of two Iranians detained by coalition forces one week ago and has obtained the release of others detained the day before. The U.S. military said the raid, which resulted in the detention of 10 people, including the Iranians, yielded documents, maps, photographs and videos. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry describes most of the detainees as diplomats and employees at the Iranian Embassy. (Watch the evidence that the U.S. alleges links two Iranians to attacks against U.S. troops Video)
  • A suicide car bomber targeting a Kurdish political group in northern Iraq killed two people and wounded 19, police in Mosul said. The bomber was targeting an office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Mosul, police said.
  • Thirteen suspected insurgents were captured, and another was killed during a four-day anti-insurgent operation in a mixed Sunni and Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, the U.S. military said Thursday. Weapons, ammunition, ID cards, uniforms and cash were found.
  • CNN's Sam Dagher and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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