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Thursday, April 19

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Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Time.

'Significant developments' postpone start of Woolmer inquest

(CNN) -- The coroner's inquest into the death of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer in Jamaica last month has been delayed due to "significant" new developments in the police investigation, the Jamaican government said Thursday night.

"The coroner wishes that these 'new and significant developments' be pursued with the utmost urgency, taking into account that the (police) officer in charge has advised that these new developments are critical to the progress and the eventual result of the investigations themselves," the statement issued by the Jamaican Ministry of Justice said.

Woolmer's body was found lifeless in his hotel room on March 18, the morning after one of the biggest upsets in modern international cricket -- Pakistan's elimination from the cricket World Cup by Ireland. Four days later, police declared the cause of his death to be murder by manual strangulation.

Under the circumstances, the statement said, the coroner's inquest into Woolmer's death will not start next Monday as originally scheduled.

Another date would be set depending on the outcome of the police investigation of the new developments. (Posted 2:50 a.m.)

Rocket strikes base, killing U.S soldier

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier was killed and two others were wounded when a rocket struck their base in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, Thursday night, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. military death toll in the Iraq war now stands at 3,316. In April, so far, 69 have been killed. (Posted 2:45 a.m.)

South Korea soldiers killed while on guard at ammo depot

SEOUL (CNN) -- Two South Korean soldiers who were guarding an ammunition depot at a military base in Gangwon Province were shot to death Friday, according to state-run Yonhap news agency.

The soldiers, both corporals in their 20s, were armed with rifles when they were killed, Yonhap quoted a South Korean Army official as saying.

Another soldier heard the fatal gunfire, the official said. (Posted 2:45 a.m.)

S. Korean Embassy told Cho's family 'doing okay'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Korean Embassy official has "verified Cho Seung-Hui's parents and his sister are doing okay," after the South Korean official met Thursday with the head of the FBI's Washington field office to inquire about the well-being of the Virginia Tech shooter's family, an embassy source told CNN Thursday.

The FBI had no comment on the meeting. A law enforcement official confirmed a meeting occurred but declined any further comment.

The South Korean source said embassy officials have been worried about the safety of Cho's family, which has been in seclusion since Monday night and have not commented on his rampage and the disturbing information about his background that has come forward. So far South Korean officials have been unable to contact the family directly, the source says, but they are working with the U.S. government to meet them.

-- From CNN State Department Correspondent Zain Verjee (Posted 7:33 p.m.)

Senate batters Gonzales over prosecutors, but Bush still backs AG

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took a beating from senators from both parties Thursday over the December firings of eight U.S. attorneys, with one Republican joining calls for his resignation during the session.

The White House said Gonzales still has the "full confidence" of President Bush, even as White House aides privately expressed dismay at the attorney general's performance.

Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he stands behind the firings, even as he apologized to the dismissed prosecutors over the way they were treated. (Posted 7:05 p.m.)

Professor: Killer's images have made us victims 'a second time'

BLACKSBURG, Va. (CNN) -- A dreadful week neared its end Thursday for the Virginia Tech community, where members of the school's marching band donned their maroon-and-white uniforms to serenade students wounded Monday by deranged killer Cho Seung-Hui.

Cho shot and killed at least 30 students and professors on the campus in southwestern Virginia before killing himself. In between a double homicide at a dormitory and the larger massacre that took place two hours later at Norris Hall, he mailed a package of photographs, videos and writings to NBC.

Police have said they still cannot definitively link Cho to the earlier shooting at West Ambler Johnston Hall, even though ballistics evidence shows that one of the two guns found with Cho was used in those killings as well as the slayings at Norris Hall.

In the bitter aftermath of the shootings, Cho's video and photographic record was the talk of the town, with most seeking to honor the victims of the shootings rather than focus on the killer. (Posted 6:56 p.m.)

Preacher's wife found guilty of voluntary manslaughter

SELMER, Tennessee (CNN) -- Mary Winkler was found guilty of the voluntary manslaughter Thursday in the 2006 slaying of her preacher husband, Matthew, after jurors rejected more serious murder charges that could have sent her to prison for the rest of her life.

Winkler, 33, the mother of three small girls, showed no emotion as the jury's verdict was read. She had testified during the trial that she shot her husband accidentally after suffering years of abuse at his hands.

Prosecutors, who argued the slaying of 31-year-old Matthew Winkler was deliberate, had asked the jury to find her guilty of first-degree murder, which carried up to 60 years in prison. But jurors were given the option of finding her guilty of lesser charges, and they opted for voluntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of up to six years.

She was allowed to remain free on bond pending sentencing, which was set for May 18.

-- From CNN's Susan Candiotti and Ann O'Neill (Posted 6:55 p.m.)

Bush restates support for Gonzales after Senate appearance

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Alberto Gonzales got poor reviews from allies on each end of Pennsylvania Avenue for Thursday's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but President Bush restated his support for his embattled attorney general.

The president, who nominated his former White House counsel to the post in 2005, restated his support for Gonzales after the hearing. In a written statement, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush was "pleased" with the attorney general's testimony, and Gonzales retains his "full confidence."

But the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter, stopped just short of calling for Gonzales to resign over his handling of the December firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said during Thursday's hearing that Gonzales should resign.

And at the White House, senior Bush aides said the attorney general did himself no favors in what some lawmakers said was a make-or-break session.

One prominent Republican, speaking on condition of anonymity, compared watching Gonzales' testimony to seeing someone "clubbing a baby seal." And a senior-level White House aide described him as "going down in flames." (Posted 6:13 p.m.)

3 more shooting victims released from hospitals Thursday

BLACKSBURG, Va. (CNN) -- Hospital officials said three victims of Monday's campus shooting spree were discharged Thursday while nine others remained in three southwest Virginia hospitals with gunshot wounds received during Monday's campus shooting spree.

One patient discharged had been recovering at Lewis-Gale Medical Center in nearby Salem, a hospital official told CNN. There are no more patients at that hospital.

Two other patients were discharged from Montgomery Regional Hospital, leaving six there --three men and three women, all listed as "stable," according to hospital CEO Scott Hill.

Two patients who suffered gunshot wounds were listed in good condition Thursday at New River Valley Hospital near Radford, officials told CNN.

At Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, one patient remained in serious condition with gunshot wounds.

A second patient who had been treated at Roanoke was transferred Wednesday to another hospital, spokesman Eric Earnhart said. He declined to identify the hospital, citing a request for confidentiality from the patient's family. (Posted 5:59 p.m.)

U.S. skeptical of Iranian claims on missing Americans

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration doubts Iran's claim that it has no information about an American who went missing in Iran last month.

"We are skeptical at best," a senior State Department official said about a recent message from the Iranian Foreign Ministry that it has no information on the welfare and whereabouts of Robert Levinson, who disappeared in early March on a trip to Kish Island, in southern Iran.

The U.S. State Department has said it has "no reliable information" on his whereabouts but believes he is still in Iran because there is no record of him leaving the country.

"We have assured ourselves to a reasonable degree that he is actually in Iran," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "We know that he went there. We're pretty sure that he didn't leave." --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 5:38 p.m.)

Virginia governor appoints panel to review university massacre

RICHMOND, Va. (CNN) -- Former Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Gerald Massengill will head up an independent panel to review the circumstances around Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech, Gov. Tim Kaine announced Thursday.

Other members of the panel, which was requested by university president Charles Steger, will include former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and experts in higher education, law enforcement and mental health.

"This panel will provide a thoughtful, objective analysis of the circumstances leading up to, during, and immediately after Monday's horrible events," Kaine said in a written statement. "What we learn could result in fresh ideas that will help bolster the safety of our young people on campuses in communities across the country." (Posted 3:42 p.m.)

Congressman to step down from committee temporarily

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., will step down temporarily from his post on the House Appropriations Committee, two Republican congressional aides said Thursday.

Doolittle's attorney, David Barger, confirmed Wednesday night that Doolittle's Oakton, Va., home was searched last week for records pertaining to his wife's business.

Her company, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, is a consulting firm with Julie Doolittle as the sole employee. Through the company, she has worked for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a lobbying firm and as a fund-raiser for the congressman, according to media reports.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting a leave from his post on the committee, Doolittle noted that "the most recent circumstances may lead some to question my tenure on the Appropriations Committee. Therefore, I feel it may be in the best interest of the House that I take a temporary leave with seniority from this committee, until this matter can be resolved."

House Minority Leader John Boehner, who received an identical letter, said in a written statement that he accepted Doolittle's decision, which he said was "in the best interests of the House and the American people." (Posted 3:28 p.m.)

Jury deliberating in murder trial of preacher's wife

SELMER, Tennessee (CNN) -- A jury began deciding Thursday whether a preacher's wife accused of killing her husband was an abuse victim who accidentally discharged a shotgun or a cold-blooded killer who shot him in the back and left him to die.

The 10 women and two men began deliberations at 11 a.m. ET Thursday.

Mary Winkler, a 33-year-old mother of three girls, is accused in the March 22, 2006, slaying of her husband, Matthew, 31, a popular preacher at the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer.

She is charged with first-degree murder, but the jury also can consider lesser charges: second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide or criminally negligent homicide.

Early in the case, prosecutors decided not to pursue the death penalty. --From CNN's Susan Candiotti and Ann O'Neill (Posted 2:56 p.m.)

California company announces rice protein recall after 11 dogs reported sick

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Wilbur-Ellis, an animal feed provider, announced the recall Thursday of rice protein it shipped to a number of pet food companies because it may contain melamine, an agent toxic to animals.

Eleven dogs fell ill after eating products containing the rice protein Wilbur-Ellis distributed, prompting the recall, the company's feed division vice president, Ron Salter, told CNN in a phone interview.

There have been no reports of pet deaths related to the rice protein and the company informed the Food and Drug Administration of the sick dogs on Sunday, Salter said.

The rice protein was imported from Binzhou Futian (PRONO: bin-ZOO few-SHEN) Biology Technology Co. Ltd. in China, according to Wilbur-Ellis, a San Francisco-based company. --By CNN's Katy Byron (Posted 2:43 p.m.)

Consultant firm: Iraq could have double the oil reserves now known

(CNN) -- A consultant firm said Thursday that Iraq could have double the amount of oil reserves it is currently known to hold.

Iraq has about 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, but there may be 100 billion barrels more in the mostly unexplored western desert region of the country, according to the firm IHS, headquartered in Englewood, Colo.

If this turns out to be true, Iraq would become the world's second biggest source of conventional oil after Saudi Arabia. Presently, its pool is the third biggest after Saudi Area and Iran.

If oil is found in the Sunni Arab heartland, the political dynamics in Iraq could change. Oil in Iraq has been associated with the Shiite and the Kurdish regions. Sunni Arabs have opposed federal autonomous regions such as the one the Kurds have and one the Shiites want, largely out of concern that they would not share in oil wealth. (Posted 2:32 p.m.)

Fake firefighter judged medically fit for trial

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A man accused of posing as a New York City firefighter and sexually assaulting a woman has been deemed medically fit to face trial, his defense attorney confirmed to CNN Thursday.

The defendant, Peter Braunstein, claims to be suffering from severe headaches caused by brain hemorrhaging and fractures in his skull. Correctional officers have said Braunstein intentionally banged his head against a sink in March, though the defense says no doctors have confirmed this.

Lawyers on both sides had agreed Braunstein, 42, is mentally fit for trial, but the defense tried to delay hearings because of his head injuries.

State Supreme Court Justice James Yates determined him medically fit Wednesday and handed the case to Justice Thomas Farber. --By CNN's Citabria Stevens (Posted 2:06 p.m.)

College in southwest Michigan closes due to 'threat'

(CNN) -- Officials at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in southwestern Michigan Thursday closed its two campuses through Friday because of a threat that turned out to be unfounded, the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office said.

Undersheriff Officer Michael Bowne told CNN school security officials decided to close the campuses after receiving "an undisclosed Internet" threat.

But the sheriff's office later said that the threat was the result of a misunderstanding of messages posted in an online chat room by a former KVCC student discussing the Virginia Tech shooting. (Posted 1:43 p.m.)

Friends, classmates of victims want focus to be on those killed, not killer

BLACKSBURG, Va. (CNN) -- As TV networks Thursday aired the rambling, profane message the Virginia Tech shooter made in his final days, friends and fellow classmates of the 32 victims tried to bring the focus back to those whose lives were cut short Monday in the deadliest school shooting rampage in the United States.

"It's a sensitive topic, I'd really rather not get into it," said Ken Stanton, a friend of victim Jeremy Herbstritt, when asked about the videos showing Cho Seung-Hui, who police blame for the killings. "I'd like to talk about Jeremy."

Herbstritt was a 27-year-old grad student, studying for his master's in civil engineering. He was shot to death in Norris Hall.

Adeel Khan, the university's student body president, agreed with Stanton's sentiments about focusing on the victims.

"Students here aren't focusing on the killer, they're focusing on one another, they're focusing on these students and honoring them," he said on CNN's "Newsroom." "Let's focus as a country on these students and how they were beautiful people, not on this killer, please." (Posted 12:59 p.m.)

2 British soldiers killed in Iraq

LONDON (CNN) -- Two British soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device Thursday in the southern Iraqi province where Iraqi troops the day before took over security duties from British forces.

The Ministry of Defense confirmed the deaths of two soldiers from the Queen's Royal Lancers in Maysan province, which borders Basra province, where the British troops are based.

The soldiers were on a routine patrol in a Scimitar armored vehicle when they were hit by a roadside bomb. (Posted 12:48 p.m.)

Gonzales: Fired U.S. attorneys 'deserve better'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee in testimony Thursday that the eight U.S. attorneys he fired last year "deserve better from me and the Department of Justice."

"Each is a fine lawyer and dedicated professional. I regret how they were treated, and I apologize to them and to their families for allowing this matter to become an unfortunate and undignified public spectacle. I accept full responsibility for this," he said.

"While the process was flawed, I firmly believe nothing improper occurred."

The process should have been "more structured," he said, but he contended the firings "were justified and should stand." (Posted 12:22 p.m.)

Abbas: Kidnapped BBC reporter is alive

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that a kidnapped BBC reporter is alive, according to a Palestinian intelligence assessment.

Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, confirmed to CNN that Abbas made the remark in a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Alan Johnston, 44, was kidnapped last month in Gaza, and previously unknown militant group on Sunday said that it killed the reporter.

The BBC cannot verify the claim, and it has been working with Palestinian officials to investigate it, a spokesman for the news organization said. (Posted 12:20 p.m.)

Video, manifesto from Va. Tech gunman provides no new leads for police

BLACKSBURG, Va. (CNN) -- A computer disk sent to NBC News by the Virginia Tech gunman containing violent and profane messages did not reveal any new information about the motive behind Monday's shootings that left 32 students and teachers dead, Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Steve Flaherty said Thursday.

"The package simply confirmed what we already knew," he said.

Authorities had already removed items from Cho Seung-Hui's room on campus that included his computer and computer disks.

Flaherty said authorities are "rather disappointed" by NBC's decision to release the images and other news networks who have aired the video.

NBC released a statement defending its decision, saying it took "careful consideration in determining how the information should be distributed." (Posted 12:18 p.m.)

Virginia Tech provost: all victims will receive posthumous degrees

BLACKSBURG, Va. (CNN) -- Virginia Tech's provost announced Thursday that all of the students killed in Monday's shooting rampage by fellow student Cho Seung-Hui will be awarded posthumous degrees from the university.

"We have recommended, and the president has approved, a decision to award all students who were killed on Monday posthumous degrees from Virginia Tech for the degree they were pursuing," said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark McNamee.

"The families are very happy about this, and we are actually going to award those degrees during the regular commencement exercises that the students -- would have participated in with their friends," he added.

McNamee also said that university officials are working to provide current students choices about how they wish to complete the semester. (Posted 11:03 a.m.)

Republican Sen. Specter faces off with attorney general

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican Sen. Arlen Specter aimed heated questions at Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over the official's contention that he had limited involvement in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

The Pennsylvania senator went through a list of meetings Gonzales attended where the topic was discussed, then asked, "Do you think it's honest to say that you had only 'limited' involvement?'"

Gonzales later replied, "It was limited involvement," and he said the discussions of U.S. attorneys such as Carol Lam from Southern California were only part of his job as U.S. attorney. She was one of those who lost her job.

Girl shot, killed in eastern Afghan checkpoint incident

He said any talks about Lam with senior staff stemmed from complaints he had received about her performance. (Posted 10:49 a.m.)]

(CNN) -- A NATO soldier shot and killed a girl in a vehicle that was approaching a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said Thursday.

The incident took place in the Sabari District of Khowst province, where an ISAF convoy "discovered an unexploded ordnance and setup a temporary checkpoint in order to remove the hazard.

At that time, a vehicle "moved around a line of stopped cars and approached the checkpoint. "

Troops "used verbal warning and hand signals to get the driver to stop. When the driver failed to stop, an ISAF soldier fired a warning shot into a nearby ditch. As the vehicle continued towards the checkpoint the soldier fired additional warning shots. The soldier then engaged the vehicle. One of the rounds struck the first girl." (Posted 10:43 a.m.)

3 U.S. soldiers killed in Baghdad attacks

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Three U.S. soldiers were killed in the Baghdad area on Wednesday, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Two died and another was wounded "when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device north of Baghdad." The military said "the unit was returning from a combat patrol in the area when the attack occurred."

A third was killed "when a combat security patrol was attacked with small arms fire in a southwestern section of Baghdad," the U.S. military said Thursday. (Postd 10:42 a.m.)

Police Supt. apologizes for release of Va. Tech shooter's video

BLACKSBURG, Va. (CNN) -- Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Steve Flaherty said Thursday authorities are "disappointed with the editorial decision" by news networks "to broadcast these disturbing images" of Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui.

"I'm sorry you all are exposed to these images," Flaherty said at a news conference.

He said authorities had "hoped the correspondence from NBC would have vital evidence" but it did not contain anything new.

"The package simply confirmed what we already knew," he said.

Authorities removed items from Cho's room on campus that included his computer and computer disks. (Posted 9:53 a.m.)

Video of Iraqi security officers' executions posted on Web

(CNN) -- An insurgent group that said it executed 20 Iraqi security force members posted a video Thursday of the killings on the Web, with the voice of the late al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi apparently speaking in backdrop of the video as the men were methodically slain.

The men, tied up and blindfolded, were lined up crouched on their knees in a field. A masked gunman shot each one of them in the back of the head. The video showed two other masked gunmen nearby and a photographer, who followed the gunman as he walked along and shot the people.

They were killed with al-Zarqawi's voice eerily in the backdrop, saying "decide which side you want to be on." There was a font saying that was al-Zarqawi's voice and it said "may God bless his soul."

The notorious al-Zarqawi, who eluded authorities for years, was killed in a U.S. air raid last year in the Diyala province town of Hibhib.

The Islamic State of Iraq -- an umbrella group of Sunni extremists that includes al Qaeda in Iraq -- said on Tuesday it killed the security officers after several demands it made of the Iraqi government hadn't been met.

CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the video, found on Islamist Web sites, and the claim that were made on it. --From CNN's Octavia Nasr (Posted 9:13 a.m.)

Gunman's suitemate: 'I feel really fooled by him'

BLACKSBURG, Va. (CNN) -- After seeing the videotaped rambling, profane message of the Virginia Tech shooter in his final days, his suitemate said Thursday he believes Cho Seung-Hui was planning his suicidal rampage for some time and was putting on "an act to hide what he was planning."

"He's just a totally different person on those videos," Karan Grewal told CNN's "American Morning." "It's just a scary person. Until now, I just thought he was really shy and reserved. But it seems like now he just was trying to fool us ... to put on an act to hide what he was planning the entire year."

"I feel really fooled by him that he could put on that face and do this on the side."

Cho -- who is blamed for killing at least 30 people in Monday's shootings on the Virginia Tech campus before killing himself -- mailed a package containing video, photographs and writings to NBC News sometime between two shootings on campus. (Posted 8:57 a.m.)

Romania's parliament suspends president for 'unconstitutional conduct'

BUCHAREST (CNN) -- Romanian President Traian Basescu was suspended Thursday by the Romanian parliament for "unconstitutional conduct" by a vote of 322-108.

Lawmakers accuse Basescu of provoking political crises within the government and slowing down reforms. As a new member of the European Union, the country has many economic standards to maintain.

The president vowed earlier this week he would resign "in five minutes" if the parliament voted to suspend him, but he has not yet indicated Thursday if he will step down. If he does so, new presidential elections will have to be organized in 40 days, according to the country's constitution.

If Basescu does not resign, parliament would hold a referendum in 30 days asking voters if they want the president to stay. If they do not, new elections would be held within 40 days. --From Ioana Dumitrescu of Romanian Public Television (Posted 8:56 a.m.)

Poll: Americans split over decision over the future of embattled U.S. attorney general

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the midst of a mushrooming controversy over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, a CNN poll released Thursday shows that Americans are split over the future of embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, with at least a quarter of the public unsure how they feel about him.

Gonzales has been criticized for his involvement in the firings, which some have said was for political gain. Overall, only 28 percent of Americans view him favorably, and a third have an unfavorable view.

But once again, the "don't know" category is fairly high. That's likely to change after Gonzales testifies before Congress on Thursday.

Going into the hearing, 38 percent of Americans say the attorney general should resign and 37 say he should not. The rest are unsure.

The poll of 1,218 adults was conducted April 10 - 12 by Opinion Research Corporation. The questions had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 to 4.5 percentage points. (Posted 8:35 a.m.)

24 Taliban fighters killed in 7-hour battle in southern Afghanistan

(CNN) -- Twenty-four Taliban fighters were killed during a seven-hour battle with Afghan and coalition forces at nightfall Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition command in Afghanistan said Thursday.

Two coalition soldiers received minor injuries during the fighting. No civilian casualties occurred, the coalition said.

According to the coalition, the battle began when four Taliban members fired rounds at troops patrolling the northeast corner of the Sangin district area in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The following day, the U.S-led coalition launched an airstrike on a munitions compound in the northeastern section of the Sangin district after Taliban insurgents fired guns and rocket-propelled grenades at Afghan and coalition forces conducting a security patrol.

A command coalition statement said two Taliban fighters were found dead at the scene after the strike. There were no reports of any Afghan civilian injuries, the coalition said. (Posted 8:19 a.m.)

Gates visits Iraq as Baghdad reels from brutal violence

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in war-torn Iraq Thursday on the heels of a bloody 24-hour stretch in Baghdad that has left more than 200 people dead.

Gates -- who intends to meet with U.S. commanders and Iraqi government officials -- has been visiting other countries in the region and his stop in Iraq is an unannounced visit, a pool report said.

Gates made remarks about Iraq while he was visiting the Egyptian capital of Cairo on Wednesday and stressed the need for political reconciliation.

"I think that there is progress being made. I believe that faster progress can be made in the political reconciliation process in Iraq," Gates said. (Posted 8:17 a.m.)

Baghdad bombings spark shock, outrage

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The bombings in Baghdad Wednesday that killed at least 198 people and injured many more prompted shock and outrage worldwide and concern among U.S. and Iraqi troops trying to establish peace in Baghdad with its two-month old crackdown called Operation Enforcing the Law.

Ashraf Qazi, the U.N. special representative in Iraq, Thursday denounced the "killing and wounding of more than 500 innocent civilians, including men, women and children," saying the attacks were "malicious and premeditated mass murders, aimed at tearing apart prospects for peaceful and lasting coexistence among Iraq's different communities."

He urged all Iraqis "to resist being pushed into the abyss of calamitous sectarianism" and "called on Iraqi authorities to vigorously pursue the criminal perpetrators of these atrocious acts and bring them to justice." (Posted 8:10 a.m.)

Car bomb kills 12, wounds 28 in central Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A suicide car bomb exploded in central Baghdad's Jadriya neighborhood on Thursday afternoon, killing at least 12 people and wounding 28 others, according to an official with Iraq's Interior Ministry.

The car exploded near a parked fuel tanker truck at about 1:30 p.m., the official said.

Of the deaths, 10 were civilians and two were police officers. Of the injuries, 24 were civilians and four were police officers.

The police casualties were guards near an Interior Ministry detention facility, but it was unclear if the facility was the target of the attack. (Posted 7:55 a.m.)


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