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Car bomb kills 11 in central Baghdad

/ Source: The Associated Press

An explosion killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens on Thursday after a car bomb detonated in a commercial district of central Baghdad, adding to a recent upsurge in Iraq's violence.

Explosives in the parked car went off just outside the heavily fortified Green Zone. It's the latest in a string of attacks after several months of relative calm linked to last year's U.S. security buildup.

  • Also on Thursday, Iraqi police and a morgue official said that the body of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop kidnapped last month was found just outside the northern city where he was abducted.
  • Earlier, the U.S. military said that an Iraqi girl was killed after American troops fired a warning shot at a woman who "appeared to be signaling to someone" along a road where several bombs have recently been found.
  • In other violence, five members of an Awakening Council were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked two separate checkpoints near Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. Nine others were wounded in the attacks. Awakening Councils are made up of mostly Sunni fighters who have accepted U.S. backing to switch allegiances and fight al-Qaida in Iraq.

Sharp increase in attacks
The violence comes amid a sharp increase in attacks resulting in the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, where 12 Americans have been killed in the past four days. Most recently three soldiers died on Wednesday in a rocket attack on Combat Outpost Adder near Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.

The attack came a day after an American soldier died when a roadside bomb hit his patrol near Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad.

Eight soldiers were killed in a pair of bomb attacks on Monday, the heaviest single day of U.S. casualties since September.

Three of those soldiers died in a roadside bombing in Diyala, a violent province where al-Qaida in Iraq has been active. The five others were killed when approached by a suicide bomber while on foot patrol in central Baghdad.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni militant group, issued a statement Wednesday claiming responsibility for the soldiers' deaths.

With the overall U.S. military death toll in Iraq nearing 4,000, Wednesday's killings mark a significant rise in deadly attacks against Americans.

At least 3,987 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an AP count. The figure includes eight military civilians.

Archbishop kidnapped
Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was seized in Mosul and three of his companions were killed Feb. 29 when gunmen attacked them soon after he left mass. It was the latest violence in what church members call a series of attacks against Iraq's small Christian community.

A Mosul police officer and morgue official confirmed that the body of the dead archbishop was found. Both men spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

The news agency of the Italian bishops' conference also reported that Rahho's body was found. The SIR news agency quoted the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, Monsignor Shlemon Warduni, as saying the kidnappers had buried him.

No one has claimed responsibility for the archbishop's killing.

Christians targeted
Last year's International Religious Freedom Report from the U.S. State Department noted that Chaldean Catholics comprise a tiny minority of the Iraqi population, but are the largest group among the less than 1 million Christians in mostly Muslim Iraq.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians have been targeted by Islamic extremists who label them "crusaders" loyal to U.S. troops. Churches, priests and businesses owned by Christians have been attacked by Islamic militants, and many have fled the country.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged last fall to protect and support the Christian minority.

Though most of Iraq has witnessed a decrease of violence over the past six months, the U.S. military regards Mosul as the last urban stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq, and is engaged in a campaign with Iraqi forces to root out extremists from the city 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

'Around 10 year old'
The young girl's shooting, which took place Wednesday afternoon, occurred in the volatile Diyala province north of Baghdad. An exact location was not given in a military statement.

The girl appeared to be "around 10 years old," said Maj. Brad Leighton, a military spokesman.

In its statement, the military said that "coalition forces fired a warning shot into a berm near a suspicious woman who appeared to be signaling to someone while the soldiers were in the area. A young girl was found behind the berm suffering from a gunshot wound."

Leighton, however, said preliminary reports indicated that soldiers didn't believe the woman posed a threat of being a suicide bomber, but rather "they were afraid she was signaling to someone that the convoy was going by."

Kidnapped contractors
On Wednesday, news that the severed fingers of five Western hostages had been reportedly sent to U.S. government officials, gave the men's relatives hope that they are still alive, a brother of one of the missing men said.

The Austrian weekly magazine News first reported the delivery of the five fingers in Wednesday's edition, citing unidentified authorities working on the case.

Patrick Reuben, a Minneapolis police officer whose twin brother, Paul Reuben, is among the missing, said late Wednesday the FBI told his family members that "the fingers were confirmed to be those of the hostages."

Patrick Reuben told The Associated Press the news of the severed fingers was "shocking," but that the initial word the family got was "much more serious than that. Later on we found that it was fingers that were recovered and that the DNA confirmed it was the hostages."

In a statement Wednesday, the FBI declined to confirm the men had been identified by fingers.

"The FBI has received DNA evidence and is conducting an examination," spokesman Richard Kolko said. "We understand this is a very difficult time for the families and discussing this matter further in the media is not appropriate."

Kolko said the agency continues to investigate the whereabouts of the five men missing since 2006: Reuben, a former St. Louis Park, Minn., police officer; Joshua Munns of Redding, Calif.; John Young of Kansas City; Jonathon Cote of the Buffalo, N.Y. area, and Bert Nussbaumer of Austria.

The men were working for Crescent Security Group, a Kuwait-based private security company. They were kidnapped Nov. 16, 2006, by men in Iraqi police uniforms who ambushed a convoy they were escorting near the southern city of Safwan.

Reuben said his family is "certainly hopeful, but there's nothing definite right now."