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Insurgent rockets hit Baghdad hotels
A minibus burns after a rocket launcher inside it backfired and set it ablaze Friday in Baghdad.
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A minibus burns after rocket strikes in Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein appears in court to hear charges.

The new Iraqi regime faces a number of security challenges.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Insurgents staged rocket attacks Friday in Baghdad in a tumultuous week that saw the arraignment of Saddam Hussein and installation of a new Iraqi interim government.

A rocket launcher in a minibus fired at two hotels, where many journalists and Western contractors stay, officials said.

Two Iraqis were wounded when a rocket hit a parking lot of the Baghdad Hotel, setting a car on fire, security forces said.

The first rocket slammed into the 10th floor of central Baghdad's Sheraton Hotel, leaving a few windows shattered and some damage to the building's concrete exterior. No injuries were reported.

The attackers apparently used a timing device to launch the rockets and fled the minibus after setting it, a military source said.

A malfunction caused the weapon to fire several rockets into the curb of the traffic circle that surrounds Firdos Square, where a statue of Saddam was toppled last year.

The minibus caught fire when ordnance in the vehicle exploded. Several empty rocket launchers were found inside the burned-out minibus.

Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera said a group identifying itself as the Karbala Brigade had claimed responsibility for the rocket strikes.

Al-Jazeera said it received a written statement and videotape from the group. The statement also claimed responsibility for attacks against U.S. troops in Baghdad and vowed that "operations against foreign forces will continue until the last soldier leaves Iraq."

The group said it "will not target Iraqi security and officials in its operations as long as they serve the Iraqis' interests and provide them with security."

The video shows three masked men. The middle one is holding a machine gun and reading from a statement. Two rocket-propelled grenade launchers are in front of the men.

Deaths of U.S. Marines

Two Marines died Friday as a result of separate engagements in Iraq's Al Anbar province, the U.S.-led multinational forces said.

One Marine was killed in action Friday; the other died as a result of wounds received Thursday.

Another Marine died in combat Thursday in the western province, which includes the restive Sunni Muslim cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

The deaths bring the number of U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq to 862.

Officials: Rockets little danger

The threat from recently discovered Iraqi rockets left over from the Iran-Iraq war was minimal, the Coalition Press Information Center said Friday.

On June 16, an Iraqi civilian led Polish troops to two 122 mm rockets in Hillah. The rounds tested positive for sarin gas, and authorities concluded that they were left over from the conflict between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s.

"Due to the deteriorated state of the rounds and small quantity of remaining agent, these rounds were determined to have limited-to-no impact if used by insurgents against coalition forces," a coalition statement said.

Last week, the informant led soldiers to 16 more 122 mm rockets -- all were empty and tested negative for chemical weapons.

Saddam defiant in Iraqi court

A new chapter in Iraq's history began Thursday when Saddam stepped into a court and heard seven preliminary charges against him that included the gassing of Kurds and the invasion of Kuwait.

Appearing before a judge in a 30-minute hearing, Saddam looked thin and downcast, but he became animated and at times combative as the proceedings unfolded.

When he was ushered into the court, the judge asked Saddam his name. "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq," the former dictator said twice. (Full story)

In addition to Saddam, 11 other Baathist regime figures also appeared in court Thursday, including former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for his alleged involvement in using chemical weapons. They are in Iraqi legal custody but remain in U.S. military hands.

Meanwhile, the effort to eliminate the threat posed by accused terrorist mastermind Abu Musal al-Zarqawi got a boost as the bounty on him was raised to $25 million.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had authorized the increase, from the previous reward of $10 million, a State Department spokesman said. (Full story)

Al-Zarqawi is blamed for dozens of deadly attacks on coalition forces and Iraqis, and he also is suspected in the beheadings of at least two foreign hostages in Iraq.

Other developments

  • Yemen is ready to send peacekeeping forces to Iraq, the country's state news agency reported Friday. Saba quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying that the Arab country wants to help foster stability and security in Iraq. No Arab countries currently participate in the U.S.-led multinational force. On Thursday, King Abdullah of Jordan said his country would be willing to send troops if asked to do so by the country's new interim government.
  • Two Turkish hostages were released Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. The two worked for a Turkish firm, Kayteks, which manufactures air conditioning units, the ministry said. In addition, a Pakistani man who had been taken hostage was released, Pakistani officials said Friday. Amjad Yusef Hafeez, a worker for KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., is now in Kuwait. He was abducted June 25 in Iraq.
  • A British soldier will stand trial in the shooting of a 13-year-old Iraqi boy, British Attorney General Peter Goldsmith said. Pvt. Alexander Johnston faces a charge of unlawful wounding in the September shooting. He may also face a charge relating to negligent handling of a weapon, Goldsmith said.
  • CNN's Guillaume Debre, Brent Sadler and Alphonso Van Marsh contributed to this report.

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