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Car bombs kill 40 in southern Iraq

Militants threaten to behead 3 Turkish hostages

Wreckage from one of the car bombs lies on a street in Hillah.
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Early reports say 3 Turks were kidnapped and a car bomb killed 17.

Insurgents stage wave of attacks in Iraq.

With one week until the handover of power, some questions remain.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Insurgents are pressing their campaign as the handover of sovereignty to Iraq's interim government draws nearer, spilling fresh blood and snatching new hostages Saturday.

Two car bombs exploded near a mosque, killing 40 people and wounding 22 others Saturday night in the southern Iraqi city of Hillah, a coalition military official said.

The bombings took place near a building formerly known as the Saddam Mosque. The Polish-led multinational division responded.

Hillah is a largely Shiite town near the ancient city of Babylon and is along a road where many ambushes have occurred.

And militants who kidnapped three Turkish citizens are threatening to behead them in 72 hours if Turkey does not pull its companies out of Iraq, the Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera reported Saturday.

Al-Jazeera broadcast a video showing three people seated, holding what appeared to be identification documents, while two armed, masked men pointed guns at them. The network did not broadcast any sound from the tape.

The broadcast came hours before President Bush was due in Turkey for a NATO summit.

According to Al-Jazeera, the video is from a group that calls itself Unification and Jihad. The group is believed to be linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom the coalition blames for a string of recent attacks and who is believed to have ties to al Qaeda.

The same group kidnapped and beheaded American Nicholas Berg and South Korean Kim Sun-il when its demands were not met.

Al-Jazeera said the videotape was dropped off at the network's Baghdad office and an accompanying statement was faxed to the network's office in Doha, Qatar.

According to the text read by the Al-Jazeera anchor, the kidnappers called on the people of Iraq to denounce President Bush's visit to Turkey and to insist Turkish companies leave Iraq.

There are no Turkish troops participating in the coalition. But some coalition forces use a Turkish air base when rotating in and out of Iraq.

Earlier in June, seven Turkish civilian contractors were held hostage by what coalition officials said was a different militant group. They were released after several days. Also, a Turkish truck driver was abducted and released in June. It was not clear who his captors were.

Before the hostage videotape was broadcast, coalition officials urged Iraqis to come forward with tips on al-Zarqawi and reminded Iraqis of a $10 million bounty for his arrest.

The coalition has stepped up its targeting of al-Zarqawi's network in recent days.

Three times during the past week, coalition airstrikes in Fallujah targeted suspected al-Zarqawi safe houses, killing at least 58 people in the process.

A senior Defense Department official said a strike Friday nearly killed a man believed to be al-Zarqawi.

President Bush arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, shortly after the videotape of the Turkish hostages was broadcast, for a summit of NATO leaders.

Turkey is the only NATO member nation with a Muslim majority.

Bush flew to Turkey from Ireland, where he had met European Union leaders. After the meeting, Bush promised to help the interim Iraqi government build up its security services and fight the insurgency.

He also urged NATO to help Iraq and indicated that the United States presence there will hinge on the new Iraq's ability to be self-sufficient.

"We will stay as long as necessary," Bush said of the U.S. commitment to the country, "and then we will leave."

Bush said Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has written a letter to NATO asking for training and equipment support to fight the insurgency.

"I hope NATO responds in a positive way," Bush said.
Al-Jazeera broadcast video from a group claiming to have kidnapped three Turkish citizens.

"They have to have their forces, their police well-trained and well-prepared to meet the threat of the few who want to derail the ambitions of the many," Bush said. (Full story)

Political targets attacked

Insurgents also took aim Saturday at political targets in northern Iraq, killing three people in separate attacks.

Two people were killed in an assault on a political office in Baqubah and another in a car bombing of a convoy carrying a Kurdish government official in Erbil.

Also, the Baqubah office of a group affiliated with Allawi was attacked, but no one was injured.

The car bomb in Erbil exploded as a convoy carrying a Kurdish government official passed by, killing one person and wounding 20 others -- including the official and his bodyguards -- according to witnesses and an Iraqi official in the city, located in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq.

Mahmoud Mohammed, the Kurdistan Democratic Party's minister of culture, was slightly hurt in the attack, a ministry official said. Five of Mohammed's security guards were among the wounded, the official said.

In Baqubah, attackers targeted two political party offices.

Two guards at the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution office were shot and killed outside the group's headquarters, according to an SCIRI spokesman and a CNN journalist who witnessed the attack.

Also, attackers threw hand grenades into the offices of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord and then planted an explosive, which blew up shortly afterward, according to a high-ranking INA official in Baghdad. There were no casualties.

Earlier this week, Allawi received a death threat in an audiotape believed to have been recorded by al-Zarqawi. The prime minister shrugged off the threat.

Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier died early Saturday from wounds suffered in an attack on a U.S. patrol in central Baghdad, according to a coalition news release. The death brings the number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war to 852.

Farther south in Najaf, a U.S. Army convoy came under fire after taking a wrong turn in the direction of the holy shrines, a senior military official told CNN.

The transportation convoy, which was unfamiliar with the city, retreated after coming under fire, the official said. There were no casualties reported.

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