Suicide blast kills 7 Marines in Iraq

3 Iraqi soldiers are also killed in convoy attack near Fallujah

Separate assault kills 1 U.S. soldier

Hussein's deputy remains at large after reported arrest

September 07, 2004|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A suicide car-bomber struck a military convoy outside Fallujah yesterday, killing seven Marines, in the deadliest attack on U.S. forces since April.

Three members of the Iraqi national guard were also killed in the bombing in Anbar province, a Sunni Muslim region that has become a flash point during Iraq's 16-month insurgency against the U.S.-led occupation.

Also yesterday, a convoy was attacked near Baghdad, killing one American soldier and wounding another, the U.S. military said today. An improvised explosive device was used, the military said.

The force of the blast in the Anbar province attack wrecked two Humvees and hurled the suicide car's engine far from the site, witnesses and military officials said.

The seven Marine fatalities are the largest number of U.S. troops killed in a single assault since April 29, when eight soldiers died in a car-bomb attack south of Baghdad.

The Marines belonged to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

U.S. forces have not patrolled Fallujah since ending a three-week siege in April, and insurgents have strengthened their hold on the city since then.

U.S. officials agreed to put an Iraqi force, the Fallujah Brigade, in control of security inside the city. But that group is widely believed to be acting in concert with the insurgency, made up of foreign and local Islamic militants and fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein. Since pulling back, U.S. forces have carried out regular airstrikes against suspected militant hide-outs in Fallujah.

A major concern among U.S. military leaders is that Fallujah has become a launching pad for a wide range of insurgent activities -- especially car bombings, which have grown in number and sophistication.

Insurgents also have carried out numerous kidnappings and killings of civilian foreigners in the Sunni Triangle area that surrounds Fallujah. The persistent violence in Fallujah and a few other trouble zones has already prompted authorities to consider excluding them from elections scheduled for January.

With yesterday's deaths, 991 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003, according to a count by the Associated Press based on Defense Department figures.

A day earlier, two U.S. soldiers were killed and 16 injured during a mortar attack on a military base near Baghdad.

The U.S. military said yesterday that American-led troops and Iraqi national guard forces were continuing joint operations on the outskirts of Fallujah.

"Our forces will continue to stay the course in order to ensure Iraqi security forces have everything necessary to set the conditions required to foster rule of law and revitalization of Iraq," the military said in a statement.

In addition to the blasts, the U.S. military said three bombing attacks targeted its forces in eastern Baghdad yesterday morning. Three soldiers were wounded in one of those attacks.

Meanwhile, Iraqi government officials announced that a man detained by authorities a day earlier was not Hussein deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the highest-ranking official from the toppled regime to remain free.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said that after further investigation, officials had determined that the man being held was not al-Douri, who ranks sixth on the U.S. most-wanted list.

The man, who was not publicly identified, was a relative of al-Douri and was also wanted by authorities on unspecified charges, said the spokesman, Sabah Kadhim.

The reported arrest had spawned wildly conflicting official assertions and considerable confusion. Several senior officials had insisted that al-Douri was captured during a raid at a medical clinic in the northern city of Tikrit, while others, including the defense minister, characterized the claims as baseless.

It was not the first time that reports of al-Douri's arrest had proved untrue.

American officials did not deny the initial reports but said the U.S. military was not involved in any operations in Tikrit that day.

The capture of al-Douri would have been a boon for the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, which took power two months ago.

In other developments:

The group that kidnapped two French journalists last month issued fresh demands for their release, including a $5 million ransom.

In a declaration posted on an Islamic Web site, the Islamic Army in Iraq also demanded that France agree to a truce with Osama bin Laden and vow not to take part in military operations or commerce in Iraq.

The statement set a 48-hour deadline. It could not be immediately determined whether the statement was authentic.

The journalists -- Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro and Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale -- were captured Aug. 20 south of Baghdad. An Italian journalist, Enzo Baldoni, was kidnapped by the group last month in the same area and later killed.

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