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Bomb Explodes Near Baghdad Shrine, Kills 7

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BAGHDAD — A bomb left in a plastic bag exploded Wednesday near Baghdad's most important Shiite shrine, killing seven people and wounding 23, police said.

The blast occurred in the same neighborhood where an infant was rescued from a burning car the day before after an explosion killed his mother. The man who rescued the infant said the baby boy was handed over Wednesday to his uncle.

Wednesday's attack was part of a wave of violence that hit Iraq this week, primarily in Shiite areas of Baghdad.

The uptick coincided with a five-hour visit Tuesday by President Barack Obama, who told U.S. troops that "there is still a lot of work to do" in Iraq despite the new focus on the war in Afghanistan.

The bomb exploded in a pedestrian shopping area in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Kazimiyah, about 100 yards (100 meters) from the tomb of Imam Mousa al-Kazim _ one of the 12 Shiite saints.

Last January, a man dressed as a woman blew himself up near the shrine, killing more than three dozen people and wounding more than 70.

Just a day earlier in Kazimiyah, nine people were killed in a car bombing, including a mother who was riding in a taxi with her infant son. A salesman, Asad Raad, plucked the boy from the back seat of the burning car where he lay next to his dead mother.

No group has claimed responsibility for the recent blasts, but the U.S. military blames al-Qaida in Iraq, a Sunni extremist group that has targeted Shiite civilians in the past.

The government has blamed supporters of Saddam Hussein in league with al-Qaida and suggested the blasts were timed for this week's anniversary of the founding of his disbanded Baath party. Thursday is also the sixth anniversary of the U.S. capture of Baghdad, which ended Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari told The Associated Press that extra precautions were being taken in Baghdad in advance of the anniversary.

Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr plan a mass rally in Baghdad on Thursday to demand an end to the U.S. military presence.

Another Iraqi spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said authorities were reviewing the files of detainees recently released by U.S. forces to see if some might be linked to the recent bombings.

Whoever is responsible, the attacks have undermined public confidence in the Iraqi security services as the U.S. military prepares to draw down its forces in the cities by the end of June.

The area around the Kazimiyah shrine had been protected by Shiite militias, including al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, until they were forced out last year by the Iraqi army and police.

Schoolteacher Ali Adnan, 34, said the militiamen took their jobs seriously and "that's something the security forces lack."

Also Wednesday, Iraq's government signed an agreement with NATO that gives the 28-member alliance the legal authority to continue training Iraqi forces here until July 31. NATO trainers have been in Iraq since 2004.

The agreement signed Wednesday by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Iraq's minister of defense opens the door for the alliance to stay longer.

De Hoop Scheffer said the alliance would not take on any combat or security responsibilities.


Associated Press writers Chelsea J. Carter and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.