At least 13 car bombs exploded in and around Baghdad on a day when Jordanian-born fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened more violence in an audiotape message on the internet, warning that anti-US fighters "will not rest until we avenge our dignity".

Of the series of car bombs that rocked the Iraqi capital, four occurred in quick succession in the al-Adhamiya section of central Baghdad.

The first one hit an Iraqi army patrol, the second a police patrol and the third and fourth at separate barricades near the headquarters of the police special forces unit, police chief Brigadier General Khalid al-Hasan said.

Colonel Husain Mutlaq said those attacks killed at least 20 Iraqis, including 15 soldiers and five civilians. At least 65 were injured, including 30 troops and 35 civilians, he said.

Attack motives

"We see these attacks as another desperate attempt by the terrorists to discredit the newly formed Iraqi government," the US-led military said in a statement, adding the violence was failing "to drive a wedge between the Iraqi people and their right to choose their own destiny".

The car bombs left a trail of 
death and destruction

Ambulances sped to hospitals and policemen crouched in fear after the explosions in Baghdad, which set fire and caused heavy damage to the special forces headquarters.

A US soldier was killed and two others from the 1st Corps Support Command were wounded on Friday in a car bombing about 20 miles north of the capital, the US military said.

A car bomb attack near Diyara also killed two US soldiers assigned to the 155th Brigade Combat Team, II Marine Expeditionary Force, the military said. The statement did not provide additional details.

US military spokesman Greg Kaufman said earlier that seven other US soldiers had suffered minor injuries in other attacks around Baghdad.

Al-Madain assault

Armed fighters also hit Iraqi forces with a coordinated assault in the southeastern town of al-Madain, less than two weeks after Iraqi forces raided the region in an operation praised by the US military as evidence of the progress made by Iraq in assuring its own security.

A roadside bomb was detonated, then two cars laden with explosives drove from different directions into police special forces as they arrived to investigate, said police Lieutenant Jasim al-Maliky.

A third car bomb targeted another police patrol and a fourth detonated near the city hospital, according to Iraqi police, who said the attacks killed 13 people and injured 20.

Many of the wounded arrived covered in blood at the emergency section of al-Madain's al-Kindy hospital.

A bomber also blew up an ambulance packed with explosives near a police special forces patrol in Baquba northeast of Baghdad, killing four Iraqis, including two policemen, said police Brigadier General Adil Molan. Twenty Iraqis were injured, he said.

Major Steven Warren, a US military spokesman, said the bomber drove his vehicle up to a truck carrying the Iraqi troops.

Cabinet formation

The violence came after Iraq's National Assembly approved an interim cabinet lineup on Thursday, laying the groundwork for the first elected government in Iraq's history to take office.

The new cabinet held its first meeting on Thursday night to discuss a handover between Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his successor, Ibrahim al-Jafari. The incoming premier's office said the handover would take place on Tuesday.

The violence came a day after
the Iraqi cabinet was named

The Shia-dominated cabinet so far excludes the Sunni group from meaningful positions.

Nearly a third of the 275-member National Assembly stayed away from Thursday's vote, underscoring the myriad ethnic and religious divisions that have hampered the formation of a government since parliamentary elections on 30 January.

The primary goal of Iraq's first elected government will be to write a permanent constitution by mid-August. The document must be submitted to a referendum no later than 15 October. If approved, elections for a permanent government must be held by 15 December.

Al-Zarqawi tape

The audiotape purportedly from al-Zarqawi was posted on a website known for carrying messages from armed groups. The speaker directly addressed US President George Bush.

US-led forces have so far failed
to restore order in Iraq

"You, Bush, we will not rest until we avenge our dignity," the voice said. "We will not rest while your army is here as long as there is a pulse in our veins."

The tape urged al-Zarqawi's followers to step up their attacks on US soldiers, vowing to "make swords drip with their blood".

The US has offered a $25 million reward for information leading to al-Zarqawi's arrest.