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Iraqi Terrorists Step Up Campaign as Hand-Over Draws Closer - 2004-06-27

Iraqi insurgents are pressing on with their campaign as the hand-over of sovereignty to Iraq's interim government draws nearer, killing more people and capturing new hostages.

It was a violent weekend as twin car-bombings south of Baghdad killed at least 23 people. Blasts late Saturday in the Shi'ite town of Hillah, 100 kilometers south of the capital, wounded nearly 60 others.

In separate incidents Sunday, attackers killed one American when they fired on a U.S. military transport plane, and killed another U.S. soldier at a military base outside the capital. And, two Iraqi children playing near the Tigris river in Baghdad were killed in a mortar attack.

Meanwhile, the Arab-language television station al-Arabiya broadcast a report showing three unidentified masked gunmen, who threatened to behead a hostage identified as Pakistani unless American forces release some prisoners being held in Iraq within three days.

This follows news that militants loyal to terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi took three Turkish hostages Saturday, and called on Turks to stop working with U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

On CNN's Late Edition, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concern, but said Washington remains firm in its commitment to Iraq. "We cannot yield to this kind of terrorism. And our heart goes out to the families of these individuals and we hope it will be possible to rescue them, but it's a dangerous operation," he said.

Turkey is not part of the U.S.-led coalition force in Iraq, but many Turkish nationals work as drivers and support staff for U.S. forces.

As the interim Iraqi government prepares to take over power from the United States, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told Late Edition that security is one of his main priorities. "[The interim government is] considering a host of issues. What we are considering is a public safety, Defense of Public Safety Law, and other laws to be implemented. Definitely, we are mobilizing our police force. We definitely are mobilizing our army, and make it ready to confront the enemies of Iraq and the criminals and the terrorists," he said.

Mr. Allawi said the Iraqi government would take what he called "tough action" within the next few days. He said this could involve measures like more curfews around the country.

He added that he expects Saddam Hussein to be transferred to Iraqi legal custody within days after Wednesday's transition of power.

Secretary Powell said although legal custody would go to the Iraqis, U.S. forces would still maintain physical responsibility for the deposed former Iraqi leader, for what he said would be "the foreseeable future."

Meanwhile, on ABC's This Week, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice quashed speculation that President Bush would go to Baghdad to preside over the transition. "I think the hand-over ceremony is really for the Iraqis. This is an opportunity for the Iraqis to take, at a really historic moment, their opportunity to build a different kind of Iraq on behalf of their fellow citizens. This is a moment for the Iraqis," she said.

She added, though, that President Bush will sign a letter establishing diplomatic relations with Iraq for the first time in more than a decade.