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Iraq Transition

Blast kills 12 Iraqi security guards

Ministry official wounded; three bombs target U.S. convoys

An Iraqi boy stands near burning vehicles targeted by insurgent attacks Wednesday.
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A series of bombs north of Baghdad target U.S. military forces.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in Iraq, cites progress.

U.S. considers lower troop levels in Iraq if violence decreases.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A blast near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk killed 12 Iraqi security personnel trying to defuse a roadside bomb Wednesday, officials said.

Insurgents in Baghdad also attacked an Interior Ministry official, and three bombings in the capital targeted U.S. military vehicles.

The incidents took place as an Indiana businessman abducted this week was shown in a video surrounded by masked militants and asking his family and friends to urge the United States to negotiate with the "Iraqi national resistance."

The video of Jeffrey Ake, whose firm works in Iraq, appeared on the Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera. The video showed Ake sitting behind a desk while three militants stood nearby, their weapons pointed at him. (Full story)

The fatal bombing just north of Kirkuk struck security forces charged with guarding the infrastructure of that region's oil industry, which has been victimized by saboteurs.

Iraqi security forces and Northern Oil Co. officials said two of the 12 killed were officers in the Oil Guards unit.

Most of Iraq's oil comes from the southern facilities, where exports reach about 1.5 million barrels per day.

But insurgents have often attacked pipelines and plants in the Kurdish-controlled north, and oil production in Iraq remains lower than before the war.

Also Wednesday, a high-ranking official with Iraq's Interior Ministry was critically wounded when gunmen attacked his car as he drove to work, Iraqi police said.

Col. Naji Hussein and his driver were wounded by small arms fire while driving through the al-Dora district of southeast Baghdad, police said.

The strike came a day after Iraq's deputy interior minister, Maj. Gen. Tareq al-Baldawi, escaped injury an attack on his convoy in Baghdad that killed one of his bodyguards.

Iraqi police and the U.S. military said the three bombs in Baghdad wounded several Iraqis within about two hours Wednesday.

There were no injuries to coalition soldiers and no damage to coalition vehicles, coalition spokesman Capt. Darren Luke told CNN.

The first attack happened at 8:40 a.m., when a roadside bomb exploded as a U.S. military convoy passed in eastern Baghdad. News footage showed a fire, billows of thick, dark smoke and a truck totaled by the blast.

At 9:30 a.m., a car bomb targeted a U.S. Defense Department convoy on the road to the Baghdad airport, a U.S. military spokesman said. He said there were minor injuries but gave no further details.

At 10:45 a.m., a car bomb exploded in the western Baghdad neighborhood of al-Amiriya, wounding three Iraqi civilians. Iraqi police said the car bomb targeted a U.S. military convoy.

The attacks came a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to Baghdad, praising Iraq for its fledgling democracy and noting improvements in the country's security forces.

From Iraq, Rumsfeld traveled to Afghanistan. He arrived in Kandahar to meet with U.S. commanders and other forces. He also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (Full story)

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick made his own surprise visit to Iraq on Wednesday.

President Bush, speaking to cheering soldiers Tuesday at Fort Hood in Texas, said Iraqi forces are making strides in training and are gaining the confidence of the Iraqi people and American forces. (Full story)

Other developments

  • A U.S. Army soldier serving with the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, died in combat Tuesday in Ramadi. The Marines said in a news release that "enemy small arms fire" killed the soldier during combat operations. The identity of the soldier is "being withheld pending notification of next of kin." The death brings the total number of U.S. forces killed in the war to 1,548.
  • Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department designated a Jordanian national, Bilal Mansur al-Hiyari, as providing financial support to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network in Iraq. The move is a step toward freezing al-Hiyari's assets. "We're making it harder and riskier for the Zarqawi network to raise and move money," said Robert Werner, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, in a written statement.
  • The new president of Ukraine has signed a decree ordering his country's troops to leave Iraq by year's end, the Russian news agency Interfax reported Wednesday. In signing the decree -- considered a formality -- President Viktor Yushchenko is living up to a promise he made during last year's presidential campaign that he would bring home the troops, which numbered 1,650 at the height of the deployment.
  • CNN's Kevin Flower, Ayman Mohyeldin, Octavia Nasr and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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