BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A new round of car bombings and other violence struck Iraq on Wednesday, with 55 people killed or found dead as the Iraqi government unveiled a plan to assume responsibility for security in Baghdad by early next year.
The relentless attacks indicate how hard it may be for the Iraqis to replace U.S. forces in the capital, and President Bush said he would ``not be rushed'' into a decision on a strategy change for Iraq.
The scope of the problem was clear Wednesday, from the first bombing at a bus stop during morning rush hour through the announcement at 9 p.m. that the tortured, bullet-ridden bodies of 21 kidnap victims had been found on the streets of the capital.
``If you take Baghdad, it's unacceptable levels of violence here right now. We have got to bring it down,'' said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top American military spokesman in Iraq.
The violence came ahead of a national reconciliation conference scheduled for Saturday. The gathering is aimed at rallying ethnic, religious and political groups around a common strategy for handling Iraq's problems.
At least 17 people were killed Wednesday in car bombings against Shiite and Sunni targets in Baghdad.
The first major attack happened at 8:45 a.m., when a car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in the Kamaliyah neighborhood, killing at least 11 civilians, wounding 27 and heavily damaging shops and cars, authorities said. They said the mosque was not damaged.
``A Volkswagen car exploded right near the bus stop, hitting a group of people, including women and children who were waiting to take a bus to a fruit and vegetable market,'' said one witness, Abu Haider al-Kaabi.
Two other car bombs exploded in the mostly Shiite area of New Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 14. Another car bomb struck the largely Sunni area of Yarmouk, killing two people and wounding three.
North of Baghdad, seven tortured bodies were found in Mosul, two people were killed by roadside bombs in Kirkuk and men with explosives destroyed a small, empty Shiite shrine in Baqouba, security forces said. Two suicide car bombs also struck the headquarters of the Iraqi army's 2nd Battalion near Kirkuk, killing four soldiers and wounding 10.
South of the capital, three roadside bombings missed a police patrol, killing one civilian and wounding one in Musayyib; and gunmen killed a nine-member Shiite family in an attack on their house in Hasna village.
The U.S. maintains about 140,000 troops in Iraq, and Bush is considering a change of strategy in the country, including Baghdad, where stepped-up efforts to curtail sectarian violence failed this summer.
For several months, U.S. and Iraqi officials have been talking about proposals to transfer responsibility of security in cities from American forces to newly trained Iraqi police and soldiers.
Caldwell said Wednesday that the top two U.S. officials in Iraq and the Iraqi leadership were discussing a plan for Iraqi troops to assume primary responsibility for security in the capital.
``Obviously we all believe that to find solutions for the Iraqi problems it's going to take Iraqi solutions,'' Caldwell said. ``And so that's in fact what they've done, they've drawn up a plan.''
Caldwell acknowledged the difficulties in restoring calm in Baghdad and said the solution was for Iraqi politicians to overcome their differences.
But he stressed that the emphasis was on increasing transition teams and said the U.S. would provide enough troops to ensure that Iraq's Shiite-dominated security forces protect all sides.
``I mean, that's another set of eyes that the Iraqi leadership can count on to ensure that their security forces are performing in a nonsectarian manner out there on the street,'' he told reporters.
The New York Times first reported the plan Wednesday, citing Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie as saying it called for pulling back most American troops from central Baghdad and redefining their mission so they concentrate primarily on fighting al-Qaida and Sunni extremists.
A close aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that the proposal for the Iraqi army to take over security in Baghdad and other cities was first proposed to Bush by al-Maliki at their Nov. 30 summit.
``I can tell you that by next June, our forces will take over the security of the country,'' al-Maliki was quoted as saying then.
This plan was drafted by a joint committee made up of Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq; U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad; and Iraq's defense and interior ministers and its national security adviser, the aide said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was disclosing information that has not been officially released.
Ten Iraqi divisions are prepared to take over from the Americans across Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq by March 2007, under the supervision of the multinational forces, according to the aide, who attended the meeting between al-Maliki and Bush.
By the end of June, Iraqis will take over security for all provinces and coalition forces will move outside cities, the aide said. By that time, the aide added, al-Maliki will have the right to redeploy these Iraqi forces.