Iraqi authorities yesterday detained more than 50 people for questioning in the car bombings that killed dozens of civilians Sunday in two Shiite Muslim holy cities, worsening...

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NAJAF, Iraq — Iraqi authorities yesterday detained more than 50 people for questioning in the car bombings that killed dozens of civilians Sunday in two Shiite Muslim holy cities, worsening long-standing tensions between Iraq’s majority Shiites and the Sunni minority that ruled the country under Saddam Hussein.

The bombings in Najaf and Karbala, home to shrines of the two most venerated Shiite saints, killed at least 67 people and injured close to 200. Although the attacks were blamed on insurgents fighting the U.S. occupation and its Iraqi allies, it was one of the first major attacks that appeared to primarily target civilians. Many of those who died were women and children.

Those arrested included at least one non-Iraqi Arab, said Najaf Gov. Adnan al Zurfi. Najaf Police Chief Ghaleb al Jazairi said two of the suspects confessed to having links to neighboring regimes, one allegedly with Syrian intelligence and the other a 10-year relationship with Iranian agents. Authorities wouldn’t elaborate further on the detainees.

Five U.S. soldiers, Iraqi injured in blast

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Five U.S. soldiers and one Iraqi civilian were injured in a car bombing north of Baghdad, the military said today.

The five Task Force Danger soldiers and the civilian were traveling in a Humvee yesterday near Hawija, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, when the blast occurred, the military said.

A suspected insurgent was detained, and the injured were in stable condition, the statement added.

Politician offers own militia to guard polls

NAJAF, Iraq — Apparently fed up with the inability of U.S. and Iraqi troops to stop the violence, a leading Shiite politician offered yesterday to send 100,000 of his militiamen to guard polling places for the Jan. 30 legislative election, the first free vote in Iraq since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958.

Abdulaziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, part of the dominant Shiite-based slate of candidates in the election, said the offer is “part of our political and national responsibilities.” He said the Badr Brigade, the Iran-backed council’s armed wing, was prepared to guard Iraq’s polling sites.

Navy SEAL acquitted of prisoner abuse

SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL has been acquitted of charges that he beat a handcuffed and hooded Iraqi suspect who later died, while a second commando received probation for assaulting another prisoner, attorneys for the men said yesterday. The hearings were closed to the public, and neither SEAL was identified.

The first SEAL was accused of punching and kicking prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi, a suspect in the bombing of a Red Cross facility, and appearing in a photo in which the hooded and handcuffed detainee was allegedly humiliated.

The second SEAL was accused of putting a headlock on a detainee during a CIA interrogation. The detainee was suspected of supplying explosives and weapons to insurgents attacking U.S. troops in Iraq.

Majority in U.S. say stay the course in Iraq

More than half — 56 percent — of Americans surveyed say the United States should keep troops in Iraq until it is stable, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Forty percent said troops should be brought home as soon as possible.

That’s about the same level of support that Pew has found all year for keeping troops in Iraq until it’s stabilized. An ABC News-Washington Post poll got essentially the same results.

“Even for critics of the decision to go to war, pulling out is seen as further increasing the risks of terrorism and raising the threat to the United States,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

Four in 10 said they approve of the way the United States has handled the situation in Iraq, while almost six in 10 disapprove, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll.

A year ago, almost two-thirds approved of the way Iraq was being handled.