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15 die as US troop withdrawal nears

BOMBINGS killed at least 15 people in the Baghdad area yesterday as violence intensified ahead of next week's planned withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq's major cities and urban areas.

The bombings, nearly all in Shiite areas of the capital, came just two days after the year's deadliest attack - a truck bombing that killed at least 75 people in northern Iraq.

The escalating violence will test the Shiite-dominated government's ability to provide security around the country without the immediate help of the US troops remaining in Iraq.

From June 30, most of the 133,000 American troops left in Iraq will be housed in large bases outside the capital and other cities - unable to react unless called on for help. The withdrawal is part of an agreement under which all US troops are to leave by the end of 2011.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on the Shiite-led government to take whatever steps necessary to protect Iraqis from attacks. But in a statement, the anti-American cleric blamed the violence on the continued presence of US troops and demanded a faster withdrawal.

"The Iraqi people are heading toward a new phase that might lift them out from their suffering," the cleric said.

In Baghdad's Sadr City, a bomb exploded next to a bus carrying students to exams, killing at least three people and wounding 13, including three students, police said.

Police patrol

At least five people were killed and 20 wounded by a bomb planted near a car in the Karradah district of the Iraqi capital, on the east side of the Tigris River. Another roadside bomb targeted a police patrol in Baghdad's Ur district, killing three and wounding 25.

In the fourth attack, a suicide car bomber targeted the mayor's offices in Abu Ghraib. The explosion occurred before the car reached the government building. Four civilians were killed and 10 people were wounded, including three US soldiers.


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