Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has vowed to crush militants responsible for coordinated attacks in five cities just days before the formal handover of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority to his government.

Miliants said to be affiliated with al-Qaida linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Less than a week before the planned transfer of power in Iraq, car bombs detonated near a police academy, a hospital and several police stations in the northern city of Mosul, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 200 others. U.S. forces came under heavy attack in Baquba, where two American servicemen were among more than a dozen people killed. U.S. aircraft dropped three 225-kilogram bombs on insurgent strongholds around the municipality.

Iraqi officials report several dozen others deaths in clashes in Ramadi, Fallujah and on the outskirts of Baghdad. In Fallujah, the crew of a U.S. Marine helicopter escaped unharmed after making an emergency landing.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi condemned the insurgents, whose coordinated attacks appear to be growing more extensive and more daring as the June 30 transfer date nears.

"The attacks were cowardly acts committed by criminals, by hypocrites, infidels who are trying to inflict damage on the Iraqi people, and to undermine the democratic process that we are moving towards," he said.

The condemnation was echoed by Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Shalan, who said the interim government would not hesitate to declare martial law if events dictate such a step. Mr. Shalan said Iraqi security forces will increasingly take the lead role in patrolling the country, with coalition troops serving as a backup.

To that end, Prime Minister Allawi has written a letter to allied governments requesting further help in training Iraqi security forces, as well as other assistance.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said NATO could play a useful training role. Secretary of State Colin Powell noted the contributions of dozens of coalition partners to date, adding that the Iraqi people would welcome new partners.

Italy is already signaling its approval of a NATO role in Iraq. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said his country would back the Allawi request at next week's NATO summit in Turkey.

On Capitol Hill, the man tapped to be the next commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, General George Casey, said anti-democratic forces in Iraq have proven deadlier and more determined than he imagined.

"The insurgency is much stronger than I certainly would have anticipated. I think they have support from external sources," he said.

The general said Iraq's majority-Sunni Muslim region northwest of Baghdad remains a focal point of unrest, and that coalition forces need better on-the-ground human intelligence from Iraqis in order to boost security in the country.