Double bombing rips through Baghdad shopping area
Car bomb, suicide bomber kill at least 15
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- At least 15 people were killed and 46 others wounded Thursday when near-simultaneous car and suicide bombings struck a busy commercial district in central Baghdad, an official with the city's emergency police said.
The car bomb, which targeted an Iraqi police patrol, exploded on Sadoon Street. Almost immediately afterward, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded coffee shop, the official said.
At least three Iraqi police officers were among the dead, the official said.
It is not known who carried out the attacks. Usually such strikes have been blamed on the al Qaeda in Iraq group, headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch warned Thursday that a surge in violence was expected to coincide with the release of results from the December 15 parliamentary election. The results have not yet been released.
Separately, U.S. and Iraqi troops discovered insurgent munitions in western Iraq, the Marines said Thursday. The forces found "more than 400 pieces of ordnances and other weapons ... [mostly] large-caliber artillery rounds and rockets," the Marines said.
Appeal for hostage
Meanwhile, the mother of abducted journalist Jill Carroll appealed to her captors Thursday "to find a way to contact us with the honorable intent of discussing her release."
Mary Beth Carroll said the hostage-takers "picked the wrong person."
"If they're looking for somebody who is an enemy of Iraq, Jill is just the opposite," she told CNN.
"She knew what the dangers were. She knew what the risks were, and she chose to accept those, because what she was doing to communicate to the world the sufferings of the Iraqi people was important." (Read more from CNN's interview)
Jill Carroll appeared in a video broadcast Tuesday on the Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera, in which her captors threatened to kill her unless the United States released all female Iraqi prisoners within 72 hours.
The U.S. military has said it is holding eight female prisoners in Iraq but said Thursday that it was not aware of any plans to release any of those detainees.
International monitors issued a report Thursday confirming complaints of fraud and other election violations in Iraq's voting, but also praising the effort in light of the violent conditions there.
High voter turnout in last year's elections "would do credit to democracies in more settled parts of the world," according to the final report of the International Mission for Iraqi Elections.
The group, charged with assessing the post-electoral process, said that election participants were "more broadly representative of the Iraqi nation than in previous elections."
In the December 15 election, more than 11 million people cast votes for a 275-member Council of Representatives.
"In a country where at the moment few, if any, governmental institutions can operate with consistent efficiency and effectiveness in all areas of the country, the IECI [Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq] succeeded in giving the vast majority of Iraqis an opportunity to vote. That, in itself, is an accomplishment," the assessment team said.
That three elections took place last year "in the midst of widespread violence" is "remarkable," the team noted.
Nonetheless, about 2,000 complaints alleging electoral violations were submitted, according to the International Mission for Iraqi Elections, and violations led the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq to void the vote in 227 out of about 30,000 polling stations -- less than 1 percent of the total.
Complaints include "ballot box stuffing and theft; tally sheet tampering; intimidation; violence; voter list deficiencies; shortages of ballots; multiple voting; improper conduct of the police and Iraqi National Guard; voting by security forces who had previously voted on the special voting day; campaigning within polling centers; and nonobservance of the silent day."
"Many of the complaints deemed most serious by the IECI were properly investigated and judiciously resolved," the international team's report said.
But the group noted that the electoral commission lacked the "technical and human resources" to investigate and resolve all the complaints thoroughly. "As a result, a large number of complaints could not be treated with requisite rigor," the group said.
Although 800 international observers were recruited, "the absence of a more extensive international observer presence put a special burden" on the more than 120,000 domestic observers "who had hoped for international support," the group said.
"The result of this election confirmed to the team that there is an urgent need ... for a formation of a government of true national unity," the group concluded.
Italy to withdraw from Iraq
Italy's government announced Thursday that it will withdraw all 2,900 of its troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
In their place will be a civil mission that will help with Iraq's reconstruction, Defense Minister Antonio Martino told Italy's parliament.
Under the plan, 300 Italian troops will return home by the end of this month, and another 1,000 will leave by June. The remaining 1,600 will be withdrawn by December, Martino said.
The decision comes less than three months before a decisive election. The government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces a tough re-election bid April 9. He has been a staunch U.S. ally in the Iraq war in spite of opposition by the Italian public.
CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report
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