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TRUCK BOMBING, ROCKET ATTACK RIP THROUGH BAGHDAD MARKET

Twenty-eight are killed, 95 wounded in what is considered a safe area.

A highly sophisticated simultaneous truck bombing and rocket attack devastated a Shiite market district in one of Baghdad's safest central neighborhoods Thursday, killing at least 28 people and wounding 95. Separately, the American military announced the deaths of seven U.S. troops.

It is rare for militants to stage a double attack with such effectiveness. The attackers struck about 6:40 p.m. as the Karradah district's market area was packed with shoppers on the eve of the Islamic day of rest.

An explosives-laden garbage truck exploded near the market about the same time as a Katyusha rocket slammed into a three-story residential building about 100 yards away. Three columns of smoke billowed into the sky and fires burned on the ground after the thunderous explosions, which set cars and buildings ablaze.

"The terrorists, curse them, are behind this act," said Firas Rahim, who sells clothes at a stand near the site of the blasts.

"They are angry because the people were celebrating and happy yesterday. Now they took their revenge," he said, referring to the jubilation that filled the streets of Baghdad after the soccer team advanced to Sunday's finals in the Asian Cup.

The attack was the deadliest in a series of bombings nationwide Thursday. At least 78 people were killed or found dead, a day after two suicide car bombings killed and wounded dozens of revelers celebrating the national team's semifinal victory in Asia's top soccer tournament.

An Associated Press tally showed that at least 1,759 Iraqis were killed in war-related violence through Thursday, a more than 7 percent increase over the 1,640 who were reported killed in all of June.

Victims of sectarian slayings were also on the rise. At least 723 bodies were found dumped across Iraq so far in July, or an average of nearly 28 a day, compared with 19 a day in June, when 563 bodies were reported found, according to the AP tally.

Three U.S. Marines and a sailor were killed Tuesday in combat in Diyala province, the military said. It also said two U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad - one in a roadside bombing on Tuesday and another in a gunbattle on Wednesday. Separately, a Marine died Sunday in a non-combat related incident in Anbar province.

Northern Iraq also faced attacks on Thursday. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of a police station west of Mosul, killing at least six people and wounding 13, police Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Waqaa said. Elsewhere, a parked car bomb also exploded near a popular restaurant in Kirkuk, killing at least six civilians and wounding 25, said police Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir.

South of Baghdad, a former aide to Iraq's top Shiite cleric was killed in a drive-by shooting in the holy city of Najaf, security officials said. Kazim Jabir al-Bidairi was the third person linked to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to be killed in two months.

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General, diplomat ask for troop time

The top U.S. general and diplomat in Iraq warned on Thursday against cutting short the American troop buildup and suggested they would urge Congress to give President Bush's strategy more time. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus were careful not to define a time frame. Still, Petraeus' comments signaled that he would like to see a substantial U.S. force remain well into 2008. He said that a drawdown from today's 160,000 troops is coming, but would not say when. Petraeus said he and his top deputy, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, are working on how to carry out a troop reduction. He said it would be done "over time, without undermining what we've fought to achieve."

Associated Press

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