By Alistair Lyon
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Insurgents killed 75 people on Thursday in a wave of attacks across Iraq aimed at sabotaging the handover to Iraqi rule in six days' time.
Guerrillas struck in Baquba, Falluja, Ramadi, Mosul and Baghdad, wounding more than 250 people in an intensification of a bloody campaign by Iraqi rebels and foreign militants. Three U.S. soldiers were killed.
In Mosul, 240 miles north of Baghdad, multiple car bombings on police buildings rocked the city, killing at least 44 people and wounding 216, the Health Ministry said.
Fighting in Anbar province, which includes Falluja and Ramadi in the Sunni Muslim heartlands of central Iraq, killed at least nine people and wounded 27, the ministry said.
At least seven large explosions shook Mosul and local television ordered residents to stay at home. Police blocked all major roads and announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Apart from the Iraqi casualties, the U.S. military said an American soldier had been killed and three wounded in the blasts. It said a security guard was also killed.
Gunfire rattled across Mosul as insurgents fought running battles with U.S. troops and Iraqi police.
Four Iraqi national guardsmen were killed and two civilians wounded by a car bomb blast in southern Baghdad, an officer in the force said. Hospital staff put the death toll at five.
Scores of black-clad gunmen, some claiming loyalty to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, attacked a police station and other government buildings in Baquba, 40 miles northwest of Baghdad, in a dawn assault.
It appeared to be the first time members of Zarqawi's underground network had surfaced in street combat.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said he believed Ansar al-Islam, a group previously linked to Zarqawi, was behind the Mosul bombings. But he blamed Baathists loyal to Saddam Hussein for the attacks in Ramadi and Baquba.
The U.S. Army said two soldiers had been killed and seven wounded in an ambush in Baquba that involved roadside bombs as well as small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
The Health Ministry said 13 people had been killed and 15 wounded in the mixed Sunni-Shi'ite town.
U.S. air strikes destroyed three buildings that guerrillas were using to fire on 1st Infantry Division soldiers and Iraqi security forces near Baquba's sports stadium.
Many of the fighters wore yellow headbands bearing the name of a Muslim militant group "Saraya al-Tawhid and Jihad" (Battalions of Unification and Holy War). They handed out leaflets warning Iraqis not to "collaborate" with Americans.
"The flesh of collaborators is tastier than that of Americans," the leaflets said.
Zarqawi's Jama'at al-Tawhid and Jihad group has claimed responsibility for many attacks in Iraq, including this week's beheading of a South Korean hostage.
Witnesses said an Iraqi hospital director and his driver were killed on a road near Baquba. A police car burned nearby.
In Ramadi, insurgents fired mortars at two police stations and the house of a security official in Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. They also clashed with U.S. troops.
The U.S. military said seven Iraqi police and 12 insurgents had been killed in the fighting.
AIR STRIKES IN FALLUJA
Fierce clashes raged for two hours in Falluja where U.S. Marines called in air strikes by planes and helicopters on guerrilla targets in the rebellious town west of Baghdad.
A U.S. Cobra helicopter was shot down during the Falluja fighting but the crew walked away unhurt, Marines said.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the U.S. army in Iraq, said clashes in a number of Iraqi cities had subsided by noon.
Iraq's fledgling security forces, the main target of the violence, are crucial to the interim government's prospects for imposing order after the June 30 handover.
NATO leaders are likely to agree to a request from Allawi to train Iraqi forces when they meet in Istanbul next week, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Reuters.
Eight British servicemen were freed on Thursday after three nights in Iranian hands, ending a wrangle that had threatened to inflame tensions over Britain's presence in Iraq.