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Baghdad bombs kill 105

BAGHDAD – Bombers killed 70 people, many of them young women students, at a Baghdad university on Tuesday, one of the city’s bloodiest days in weeks.

In all, at least 105 were killed in bombings and a shooting in the capital on a day when the United Nations said more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians died in violence last year. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in a bomb attack in northern Iraq.

The Shi’ite prime minister blamed the latest bloodshed in Baghdad on followers of Saddam Hussein. His fellow Sunni Arabs are angry at the botched execution of two aides on Monday, two weeks after the ousted leader was himself hanged to sectarian taunts from official observers, captured on an illicit video.

In Washington, President Bush said the Iraqi government had “fumbled” Saddam’s execution by making it look like a revenge killing.

Saying he had expressed disappointment to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Bush told PBS television: “I was pleased with the trials they got. I was disappointed and felt like they (Iraqi officials) fumbled the — particularly the Saddam Hussein — execution.”

Outside the Mustansiriya University in central Baghdad, a car bomb tore through students, most of them women, gathered waiting for vehicles to take them home. A suicide bomber then walked into a crowd at a rear entrance, killing more.

“The followers of the ousted regime have been dealt a blow and their dreams buried forever,” Maliki said in a statement. “So Saddamists and terrorists now target the world of knowledge and committed this act today against the innocent students of Mustansiriya University.”

The Education Ministry, whose employees and students have been frequent targets of what the United Nations report called Islamic extremists, issued a public appeal for blood for the 110 wounded and said the university would close until next week.

The bombings bore the marks of Sunni Arab insurgents. Many Sunnis were outraged by the latest hanging following a trial for crimes against humanity, and they saw the decapitation of Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti by the noose as an act of revenge, not the mishap the Shi’ite-led government said it was.

34,000 DEAD

The United Nations, in its latest two-monthly human rights report on Iraq, said data from hospitals and morgues put the total civilian death toll for 2006 at 34,452 — 94 each day.

Comparable figures for previous years were not available but officials agree sectarian bloodshed has surged in the past year.

“Without significant progress on the rule of law, sectarian violence will continue indefinitely and eventually spiral out of control,” the U.N. human rights chief in Iraq, Gianni Magazzeni, told a news conference.

Of the 6,376 civilians killed in the last two months of 2006 — 3,462 in November and 2,914 in December compared with a high of 3,702 in October — three out of four were killed in Baghdad.

Maliki’s government, which branded the last U.N. report as grossly exaggerated, has since banned its officials from giving casualty figures and the United States, which has run Iraq for four years, declined to vouch for the U.N. data.

Maliki and Bush are preparing a security crackdown in Baghdad, involving Iraqi and about 20,000 American reinforcements, which is widely portrayed as a last chance to avert a civil war between Sunnis and Shi’ites that could draw in Shi’ite Iran and Arab states on opposing sides.

Leaders of the Shi’ite majority say the plan to stifle militants with extra force, lasting six months or more, must break Shi’ite militias as well as Sunni rebels. Maliki has made that pledge before but Americans critical of Bush’s new troop increase say they are skeptical he can deliver this time.

The White House said on Tuesday a planned non-binding congressional resolution against Bush’s U.S. troop increase in Iraq could send a signal that America is divided on the war.

Some Bush critics on Capitol Hill think a non-binding vote is not enough. One Democrat with presidential ambitions, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, will unveil legislation on Wednesday demanding congressional approval for Bush’s troop increase, Dodd’s office said.

The Shi’ite deputy speaker of parliament said the new Iraq plan’s failure would mean an end to American support for the system that has given Shi’ites their first taste of real power in the Sunni-dominated Arab world for centuries.

“One consequence may be a collapse of government,” Khaled al-Attiya told Reuters. “I think all the Shi’ite parties are now aware of how dangerous the issue is. Bush…is still supporting the political process and the government. But I don’t think that if this plan doesn’t work…he can continue.”