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Iraq Transition

Suicide bomber kills Shiite cleric, eight others

Story Highlights

NEW: 108th U.S. soldier killed, making December deadliest month in 2006
• Nine killed, including Shiite cleric, by suicide bomber
• Two Iranian diplomats in U.S. custody for a week are free

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A suicide bomber targeted a Shiite cleric north of Baghdad Friday afternoon, killing him, his brother and seven others, authorities in Iraq said.

The killings took place in the Diyala provincial town of Khalis about 2:30 p.m.

The bomber had waited near the house of Sheik Kadhim Hameed Qassim, the sheik of Khalis Shiite Mosque, and self-detonated when the cleric, his security and family members arrived after Friday prayers, Diyala officials said.

The province, northeast of Baghdad, has seen much violence.

In addition to the 10 killed, including the suicide bomber, 15 others were wounded, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said.

The attack came a day after five bombs, including two that exploded simultaneously, killed at least 20 Iraqis in and around Baghdad, according to the Interior Ministry. Another 67 were wounded.

Thursday also marked the day the U.S. military announced the 100th U.S. soldier killed in December, marking the month the fifth deadliest since the war began. (Full story)

On Friday, the British Ministry of Defense announced its 127th death in the war. A roadside bomb killed a soldier, who belonged to the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, 2nd Battalion, while on patrol in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

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

Meanwhile on Friday, officials expected the imminent execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. One of his defense attorneys, Najib al-Nuaimi, cited "different sources" as saying Hussein could be executed Saturday morning in Baghdad. (Full story)

Hussein was found guilty of murder, torture and forced deportation in connection with the killings of 148 people in Dujail after an attempt on his life in 1982. He was sentenced to death by hanging. (Watch what some Iraqis predict will happen, if Hussein dies Video)

Insurgents killed in raids

Coalition forces killed six insurgents during raids in Baghdad and northwest of the capital Friday, the U.S. military reported.

Four insurgents were killed, and two buildings with nearby cache sites of bomb equipment were destroyed in Thar Thar, northwest of the capital, the military said.

One cache had enough bomb-making material "to include 16 pounds of homemade explosives, one 60-pound and one 80-pound bomb," the military said.

Two insurgents were killed, and two detained in a coalition raid targeting the al Qaeda in Iraq group in Baghdad.

Three other raids were carried out around the capital, targeting al Qaeda in Iraq and illegal armed groups. Seventeen people were detained.

Other developments

  • The U.S. military announced the death of two more American soldiers Saturday, raising the number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq this month to 108 and making it the deadliest month of 2006. One U.S. soldier was killed Friday by a roadside bomb while on a combat security patrol in northwest Baghdad, the military said Saturday. The blast also wounded two other soldiers. A second U.S. soldier assigned to the Army's to 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division was killed Friday as a result of enemy action while conducting combat operations in Iraq's volatile Anbar province, the military said. The highest monthly death toll since the war began in 2003 was 137 in November 2004.
  • Three U.S. Marines were killed Thursday in enemy action in Anbar province, the military announced Friday. Earlier, the military announced the deaths of three soldiers, killed by a roadside bomb northwest of Baghdad, also on Thursday.
  • Two Iranian diplomats were released Friday after being detained in Iraq by the U.S. military for more than a week, according to IRNA, Iran's official news agency. Efforts by the Iraqi foreign ministry resulted in their release, IRNA quoted Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, as saying. The pair were seized during a raid in Baghdad on December 21, U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters Wednesday.
  • Al Qaeda's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, discussed Iraq and Afghanistan and condemned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during an address to Muslims two days before the start of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival. An audiotape released on Islamist Web sites Friday marks the ninth released by al Qaeda in the last six months.
  • CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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