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Iraq Transition

Attacks kill at least 21 in Shiite areas

Rumsfeld makes surprise visit to troops in Mosul

Two boys look through the window of a Baghdad bakery attacked by gunmen Friday.
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Defense chief Donald Rumsfeld visits troops; Shiite areas attacked.

On the first day of the Muslim New Year, a car bomb strikes.

A man leaves his family a reminder of him while he is in Iraq.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Insurgents attacked three apparent Shiite Muslim targets in central Iraq on Friday, killing at least 21 people, police said.

In the latest attack, a suicide car bomb detonated near a Shiite mosque northeast of Baghdad during daily prayers, killing at least 12 people and wounding 23 others, Iraqi police said.

The mosque bombing -- in the town of Balad Ruz in Diyala province -- killed four Iraqi national guardsmen and eight civilians. Most of the wounded also were civilians, police said.

Gunmen also targeted two bakeries in a Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, killing nine workers, Iraqi police said.

About a dozen gunmen emerged from two vehicles parked in front of the shops and opened fire, authorities said. Five workers were killed in one bakery and four in the other.

Shiites make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population and were persecuted under the regime of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim. Many insurgent attacks have been concentrated in Iraq's so-called Sunni Triangle, where much of the nation's Sunni population lives.

Meanwhile, to the north in Mosul, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld surprised U.S. troops with an unannounced visit, telling them it will be up to Iraqis to defeat the insurgents.

"You have shown that America is in fact a land of liberators, not a land of occupiers," Rumsfeld told the troops. (Full story)

A police official suggested the Baghdad attack was part of a plan to pit Sunnis against Shiites, possibly provoking a civil war.

"Inside the bakeries there are posters and pictures for [Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] and election posters," he said, "so terrorists attacked them knowing they are Shiites. They want to create sedition between Sunnis and Shiites."

Al-Sistani is Iraq's most influential Shiite leader and is the power broker behind a Shiite coalition likely to take power in Iraq after January 30 election results are announced.

On Thursday, insurgents attacked Iraqi police in a Baghdad battle that left six police officers dead and 20 wounded, the U.S. military said.

The fighting began when a police unit encountered mortar and gunfire in the Iraqi capital's southern neighborhood of Salman Pak, said officials with the U.S.-led multinational forces.

The multinational troops treated the injured and took them to medical facilities. Patrols are pursuing the insurgent gunmen, authorities said.

Earlier Thursday, two car bombs exploded in the Baghdad area, killing three people and wounding eight.

In the first blast, a remotely detonated car bomb exploded at a busy square in the city's center after a U.S. military convoy passed by, a U.S. military spokesman said.

Three people were killed and three others wounded, Iraqi police said, and the explosion also damaged nearby shops.

Later Thursday, a remotely detonated car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol in al-Hafriyah, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraqi police said.

Five Iraqi police officers were wounded, police said. After the explosion, police detained 25 people, authorities said.

Thursday was the first day of the Muslim New Year.

Meanwhile, an organization claiming to have abducted Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena issued an ultimatum Thursday, telling the Italian government it has 48 hours to declare the withdrawal of its 3,000 troops from Iraq and making it "a condition for an announcement on [her] fate."

The message, posted on a Web site, was purported to be from the Jihad Organization. Its authenticity has not been verified.

"If the Italian forces continue to stay in Iraq, we will make sure it will bring you a bloody war," the statement said.

Sgrena, 56, who works for the Italian Manifesto newspaper, was abducted February 4 from her car in Baghdad.

Other developments

  • The U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers. A Task Force Baghdad soldier was killed Friday in a roadside bomb attack in western Baghdad, a military statement said. A soldier with the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division died Thursday night in a non-combat incident, another statement said.
  • Two U.S. Marines from the 1st Expeditionary Force were killed Friday in separate vehicle accidents in Anbar and Babil provinces, the military said. The deaths bring the number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war to 1,455.
  • Iraq's borders will be closed for five days, starting Thursday, the interim prime minister's office said. The announcement, which gave no specific reason for the closure, said the country's National Security Council recommended the move "to enhance the security and guarantee the Iraqi citizens' safety." The period coincides with Ashura, a major Shiite Muslim religious holiday.
  • Fuel shortages in oil-rich Iraq are causing some tempers to flare. And, with the recent elections, blame is moving away from U.S. forces and on to the interim government. (Full story)
  • CNN's Enes Dulami, Caroline Faraj and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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