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Sunni mosques targeted in apparent reprisal bombings

Story Highlights

• Police believe blasts could be revenge for Tuesday bombing that killed 87
• Attacks on mosques in Babil province come within 75 minutes of each other
Revered Shiite mosque damaged, more than 200 wounded in truck bombing
• U.S. military: Push in Diyala province kills at least 30 insurgents
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Three Sunni mosques were attacked in what police believe are reprisals for a massive truck bombing that damaged a Shiite mosque and killed 87 people, authorities said Wednesday.

The mosques, all located in Babil province -- parts of which comprise the violence-wracked Triangle of Death -- were attacked Tuesday night, hours after the bombing outside Khalani Mosque, police in Hilla said.

Militia members attacked two mosques in Iskandariya and another near Mahawil, police said.

Authorities said they believe the attacks were perpetrated by Shiites angered by the bombing at Khalani Square, which damaged the nearby mosque of the same name Tuesday afternoon. At least 214 people were injured in the blast, according to the Interior Ministry.

The apparent reprisal attacks, all of which came within about 75 minutes of each other, began when gunmen stormed Osama bin Zaid, a mosque in Iskandariya, and set off bombs about 9:45 p.m.

Fifteen minutes later, a bomb exploded inside Abdulla al-Jabouri, another Iskandariya mosque that was attacked as recently as last week. The bomb caused minor damage, police said. (Watch cockpit videos of air attacks in Iskandariya Video)

About an hour later, in Ajbala, near Mahawil, militia members bombed the Asfouk Mosque and the house next door, which belonged to a local imam, police said.

In Baghdad on Wednesday morning, the death toll from Tuesday's Khalani Square bombing climbed to 87.

The truck, which was reportedly filled with propane tanks, exploded about 2 p.m. Tuesday in a busy commercial district near the Shiite mosque, an Iraqi official said. (Full story)

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed the blast on Saddamists and Sunni extremists intent on stoking sectarian violence.

The Khalani Mosque was damaged in the blast, authorities said. Video from the scene showed part of the wall surrounding the mosque collapsed. (Watch authorities fight a fire at the smoking mosque Video)

The attack came six days after insurgents blew up the two remaining minarets at al-Askariya Mosque, a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra that was badly damaged in a February 2006 attack.

Last week's blast sparked attacks on nine Sunni mosques in and around Baghdad the next day, but government and police officials expressed relief that the attacks paled in comparison to the wave of sectarian violence and reprisal killings that ensued after the 2006 attack. (Full story)

U.S.: Operation kills 30 insurgents

U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi security forces killed at least 30 insurgents in the first full day of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, a joint push in Diyala province employing thousands of ground troops and police, attack choppers and Stryker and Bradley fighting vehicles, the U.S. military said Wednesday. (Watch a sniper v. sniper battle in Baquba Video)

"This operation is just beginning and we will continue to strike al Qaeda no matter where they hide and we won't rest until the job is done," Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek said of the operation being conducted north of Baghdad.

"The people of Diyala are tired of the terror and violence these al Qaeda thugs have brought to their province and are cooperating with us in order to root them out," Bednarek said.

On Tuesday, troops found several weapons caches as well as 14 roadside bombs planted in homes and along thoroughfares.

Baquba is the capital of Diyala province, a mixed region located north and east of Baghdad and bordering Iran. Military officials believe some al Qaeda in Iraq elements have recently migrated from Baghdad and Anbar province to Diyala.

Southeast of Baghdad, another operation -- Marne Torch -- entered its fourth day. Four insurgents have been killed so far in operations in Arab Jabour, on the west side of the Tigris River, and in Salman Pak and Jisr Diyala, on the east side of the waterway.

Troops also have arrested 62 suspected insurgents, found 10 weapons caches, destroyed 17 boats and found five roadside bombs, the military said.

In its new push to rout the insurgency permeating Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition has been focusing on Baghdad and its outskirts, or the "Baghdad belts" in U.S. military parlance.

These and other missions fall under the umbrella of Operation Phantom Thunder, according to a military statement.

Asked whether the "surge" of U.S. troops is achieving its intended goals, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said it would be two or three months before the U.S. military could make an "initial assessment."

"It takes some time for the soldiers to get used to the area they're in because it's a very complex environment," Odierno said.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent coalition that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, issued a statement saying the U.S. military was exaggerating its strides in Diyala province.

"The crusaders and their tails of the pagan guards attempted to move toward our locations and they were confronted by the lions of monotheism, who sold their souls to God and God willing, the enemy is being defeated and already suffered tens of killed in addition to the destruction of tens of vehicles," said the Tuesday statement.

Other developments

• Two U.S. soldiers died Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Four other soldiers were wounded in the incident. All of the soldiers were assigned to Task Force Marne, the military said. Since the war started, 3,525 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq. Seven civilian contractors also have been killed.

• Iraq's Interior Ministry reported that police found 21 bullet-riddled bodies across the capital on Tuesday. The total for June stands at 380, a ministry spokesman said Wednesday.

• U.S. and Iraqi troops found a Baghdad orphanage housing severely mistreated boys June 10, the U.S. military said in a Wednesday statement. The military said, "24 boys, ages 3 to 15 years old, were found naked in a darkened room without any windows. Many of the children were tied to their beds and were too weak to stand once released." (Full story) (Watch how violence made orphans of some Baghdad children Video)

• Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari -- in a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett -- said Britain's decision to knight "The Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie "wasn't timely."

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Saad Abedine contributed to this report.

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An Iraqi policeman stands in the rubble Wednesday outside Baghdad's Khalani Mosque. Police believe the Tuesday attack sparked reprisal bombings.


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