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Seven US Troops Killed in Iraq, Anger at US Bombing
Published on Monday, October 31, 2005 by Reuters
By Alastair Macdonald
BAGHDAD - Seven U.S. troops were killed by bombs near Baghdad, the military said on Monday, making October the bloodiest month for Americans in Iraq since January.
In the far west, where U.S. marines have been fighting for months to stem a flow of foreign Arab fighters and funds coming through Syria, local doctors and tribal leaders accused American forces of killing some 40 civilians in an air strike.
The military said it knew of no civilian deaths and believed it had killed an al Qaeda leader targeted by precision bombing.
Two roadside bombings near Baghdad on Monday killed six soldiers and the military announced a Marine had been killed by a similar device near Falluja on Sunday.
That made October, which saw Iraqis vote for a constitution and put Saddam Hussein on trial, the worst month for U.S. forces since January, when attacks by Sunni Arab rebels surged before an election that brought Kurds and majority Shi'ites to power.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned at the weekend of a similar increase in bloodshed before another parliamentary vote in December, although officials hope a decision by Sunni leaders not to repeat their January boycott of the voting may deprive the militants of support within Saddam's once dominant minority.
Militants claiming to speak for some nationalist rebels have said they held fire around the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum to encourage a big Sunni turnout and may do so again, despite disappointment that Sunnis narrowly failed to veto the charter.
However, foreign-influenced Islamist radicals like al Qaeda show no sign of letting up. A suicide bomber lured Shi'ites to their death with a truck laden with dates on Saturday, killing 30 in a small town north of Baghdad, and there are fears of more violence around this week's end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Launching one of two big Sunni-led blocs expected to figure prominently among dozens of parties on the Dec. 15 ballot, one leader set the tone for his campaign by calling for an end to U.S. occupation and criticising rivals who returned from exile after Saddam's fall as beholden to Washington or religion.
"We are ... working for the liberation of our country," Saleh al-Mutlak said, launching his Iraqi Unified Front as a secular pan-Iraqi bloc. "You won't find anyone in our group who rode into Iraq on an American tank or on a sectarian horse."
Various secular groups accuse the ruling United Alliance, led by Islamists once exiled in Tehran, of seeking to bring Iraq under the influence of fellow Shi'ites in non-Arab Iran.
The order parties appear on the lengthy ballot paper will be drawn by lot on Tuesday. Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said that, unlike in January, up to a million Iraqis living abroad may not be able to vote due to the cost and a tight schedule.
Monday's roadside bomb that killed four soldiers near Yusufiya, just south of Baghdad, was among the most lethal of recent weeks. U.S. commanders have been voicing concern about increasing power and sophistication of such bombs.
Devices capable of penetrating armoured vehicles have become more common this year, based on technology U.S. and British officials say has been introduced from Iran.
"We see an adversary that ... continues to develop some sophistication on very deadly and increasingly precise standoff-type weapons," Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said.
Two soldiers were killed in a similar attack near Balad, 60 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, and the military said a marine was killed by a bomb near Falluja, to the west, on Sunday.
A week after the U.S. death toll since the 2003 invasion passed the 2,000 mark, it rose to at least 2,026 with the attacks; they brought to 93 the number of Americans to die in October, the highest since 107 died in January.
Near the Syrian border on Monday, U.S. aircraft bombed a house close to Karabila before dawn in what the military said was a precision strike on an al Qaeda leader.
Hospital doctors in nearby Qaim said 40 people were killed and 20 wounded, many of them women and children.
"Civilian deaths cannot be verified and hospital officials frequently make such claims," U.S. spokesman Colonel David Lapan said. "We believe the targeted terrorist leader was killed."
U.S. forces in Tal Afar, further north on the border and the site of a fierce battle in September, accused insurgents of holding the local population in a "grip of fear", in a statement detailing what a military spokesman said were rebel atrocities.
Twelve bodies were found shot in the head in a shallow grave along with two who had been beheaded, the military said. A mentally handicapped boy was forced to throw hand grenades at Iraqi troops, and another boy confessed to murder and holding the feet of people while militants cut their heads off.
Before the election, a further hearing is scheduled in the trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants, including his brother Barzan al-Tikriti, on charges of crimes against humanity.
Prime Minister Jaafari said on Monday that Barzan would have access to cancer treatment which he had demanded. Jaafari did not say he would be freed as he had requested, however.
(Additional reporting by Ammar al-Alwani in Ramadi and Ahmed Rashid, Hiba Moussa and Claudia Parsons in Baghdad)