Nine Iraqis die in latest attacks

The deaths came as NATO announced it would send troops if an Iraqi Government, due to take over on July 1, requests its support.

Three Iraqis were killed and at least five wounded in a rocket attack by unknown insurgents in southwest Baghdad late on Thursday, according to police and witnesses.

Police said violence also dogged the northern city of Mosul, where three policemen and two civilians were killed in a rocket and automatic rifle attack.

Another Iraqi police officer was killed and two others seriously wounded in the northern city of Kirkuk when gunmen attacked their patrol, police said.

A US soldier was also wounded near Baquba, in central Iraq, when a homemade bomb exploded near his convoy.

In another development Polish troops said they had arrested seven al-Qaeda suspects since mid-January, including two in the past week, in the countdown to the week’s bomb attack on Karbala.

The spokesman conceded the US-led coalition had anticipated Tuesday’s spectacular bombings, but stuck to a security plan putting Iraqi forces in charge of the city for the major holiday.

Polish Warrant Officer Zbigniew Dabkiewicz said two of the suspects were connected with Jordanian Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the US-led coalition’s prime suspect the Karbala and Baghdad attacks.

In Warsaw, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would send soldiers to Iraq if Baghdad requested them and that the United Nations should mandate a stabilisation force for the country under sovereign self-rule.

“After the 1st of July, it is up to the sovereign Iraqi government to decide” whether to ask NATO to send troops, he said.

The United States is to formally end the occupation of Iraq and hand over power to a sovereign government on June 30, although it will retain a military presence in the country.

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