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Iraqi cities attacked as Biden pushes for stability

BAGHDAD - Vice President Joe Biden urged rival Iraqi politicians yesterday to end months of delays and select new leaders for their wobbly democracy, predicting a peaceful transition of power, even as suicide bombers struck government centers in two cities.

The attacks in Mosul and Ramadi underscored persistent fears that insurgents would exploit Iraq's political uncertainty to stoke widespread sectarian violence. Four people were killed and 25 injured in the two blasts that occurred hundreds of miles apart.

The explosions on July Fourth illustrated the vexing nature of U.S. involvement in Iraq and its efforts to nudge the country toward stability and democracy.

At least five mortar rounds fell in the Green Zone late yesterday, police officials said. The area is home to the U.S. Embassy, the Iraqi parliament and the prime minister's office. There were no reported casualties.

On his fifth trip to Iraq since he was elected, Biden sat down separately with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia who is struggling to keep his job after his party lost the March 7 election, and his chief challenger, former premier Ayad Allawi.

The Sunni-backed Iraqiya political alliance that Allawi heads won the most seats in the vote, but fell far short of securing enough seats in parliament to control the government. That has led to four months of both men trying to woo support from allied lawmakers, ultimately delaying the decision of who will be the next prime minister.

A statement on the prime minister's official website said al-Maliki and Biden discussed the U.S. troop withdrawal that is to bring the number of American soldiers in Iraq to 50,000 by the end of August. All troops are set to leave Iraq by December 2011.

Around 9 a.m., a female suicide bomber blew up a reception room outside the Anbar provincial governor's office in Ramadi, local councilman Aeefan Sadoun said. Four people were killed and 23 injured. The governor was not among them.

Less than two hours later, police shot a suicide bomber near the Nineveh provincial government's headquarters in Mosul who managed to detonate his explosive belt, officials said, wounding two policemen.

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