A pair of car bombs exploded near government offices in the Iraqi capital on Thursday, killing 18 and wounding three dozen as insurgent attacks against the nation's nascent security forces left at least eight others dead.
The near-simultaneous explosions outside an Interior Ministry office in a southeastern Baghdad neighborhood sent large plumes of smoke rising over the city and threw passers-by to ground, witnesses said. U.S. military helicopters swooped overhead.
One government worker said five garbage collectors he was supervising had died in the blast.
"Those trash collectors were only innocent people who were trying to feed their families," said the man, who didn't give his name. "We are against such terrorist attacks."
The twin blasts killed 18 and wounded 36, said a ministry official, Cap. Ahmed Ismael.
Insurgents kept up attacks Thursday against Iraq's security service, forces which the U.S. military says must be able to impose a level of calm in the country before American troops can depart.
Gunmen hit police patrolling near the central Iraq city of Baqouba, killing one officer and wounding three, Lt. Col. Muthafar al-Jubori said.
In the capital, attackers shot 1st Lt. Firas Hussein in the head and torso as he made his way to work at Iraq's intelligence service, police Maj. Mousa Abdul Karim said.
In Kirkuk, seven gunmen riding in two vehicles fired on the police station just south of Kirkuk shortly after dawn Thursday, killing five police officers and one civilian, police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said.
Militant group Ansar al-Sunnah claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in an Internet posting that its "knights of Islam" attacked "renegade policemen doing their morning training." The claim couldn't be independently verified.
Ansar al-Sunnah also said it had teamed up with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group for a day-earlier attack in Kirkuk _ an unusual mention of cooperation among Iraq's disparate and sometimes competing militant groups.
The Web posting, which couldn't be independently corroborated, said the Wednesday explosive device that killed 12 police was composed of three bombs buried under a decoy device - a lure to draw policemen to the blast site.
In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded outside a U.S. military installation, injuring nine civilians and setting nearby houses ablaze, police Lt. Col. Amer Ahmed said.
The U.S. military said one American soldier and two Iraqi troops suffered injuries in the bomb blast - but maintained there were no civilian casualties.
On Wednesday, an American was shown at gunpoint on a videotape aired by Al-Jazeera television, two days after he was kidnapped from a water treatment plant near Baghdad. The station said he pleaded for his life and urged U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq.
In LaPorte, Indiana, a yellow ribbon was tied Wednesday around a tree outside Jeffrey Ake's one-story brick house, and an American flag fluttered on a pole from the home. The U.S. Embassy said the man on the video appeared to be Ake, a contract worker who was kidnapped around noon Monday.
Ake - the 47-year-old president and CEO of Equipment Express, a company that manufacturers bottled water equipment - is the latest of more than 200 foreigners seized in Iraq in the past year.
The Al-Jazeera tape showed a man sitting behind a desk with at least three assailants - two hooded and one off-camera - pointing assault rifles at him. Ake, wearing an open-collar shirt with rolled-up shirt sleeves, was sitting or kneeling behind a wooden desk and holding what appeared to be a photo and a passport.
The station didn't air audio of the video, but said the man asked the U.S. government to begin talks with the Iraqi resistance and save his life. No group claimed responsibility, and there was no way to authenticate the video. Al-Jazeera didn't say how it obtained the tape.
U.S. President George W. Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, said there would be no negotiating with the kidnappers.
"Any time there is a hostage - an American hostage - it is a high priority for the United States," he said. "Our position is well known when it comes to negotiating. Obviously this is a sensitive matter."
Ake's company had been working as part of the effort to rebuild Iraq. In 2003, Equipment Express built a machine that filled containers with cooking oil to be used by Iraqis. The company also built a system to provide water bottles to be sold in Baghdad.
Ake is one of at least 14 Americans who have been kidnapped or have gone missing in the past year in Iraq. At least three have been killed. Last April, Nicholas Berg, a 26-year-old businessman, was the first to be kidnapped. He was beheaded by al-Qaida in Iraq.
One of the Americans still being held was kidnapped last month along with three Romanian journalists. The Romanian government said Wednesday it was in direct contact with their abductors, and that the four were being treated well.
EDWARD HARRIS, Associated Press Writer
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