BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. Marines launched airstrikes in western Iraq yesterday, killing 40 suspected insurgents, while a wave of shootings and bombings in the Baghdad region left at least 30 Iraqis dead.
Insurgents set off three bombs in Baghdad in less than 18 hours Friday and yesterday, including a blast aimed at the heart of Iraq's security apparatus.
The U.S. military announced that two Marines assigned to the 2nd Marine Division were killed Friday near the western Iraqi town of Saqlawiyah when a booby-trapped bomb exploded near their vehicle.
Near the Syrian border, Marines ordered a four-hour bombardment near the Anbar province frontier city of Qaim after insurgents took control of a road. Iraqi civilians were in danger, the military said.
Seven Marines have been killed in attacks in the province since Thursday.
Yesterday's airstrikes, 200 miles west of Baghdad, hit insurgents suspected in the recent killing of 21 people, including three who were beheaded and were thought to be from a group of missing Iraqi soldiers.
The Marines said their aircraft fired seven missiles at insurgents armed with AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. No U.S. troops or civilians were hurt in the confrontation, the military said.
The weekend violence underscored Iraq's continued security woes as the recently installed transitional government and U.S. forces have tried to bolster Iraq's police and military while assuring the public that the insurgency is losing ground.
One suicide car bomb went off in front of the Slovak Embassy in Baghdad yesterday, injuring four people, while Interior Minister Bayan Jabr was at a news conference across town talking about the successes of the crackdown on insurgents, called Operation Lightning.
"Iraqis have noticed that the number of terrorist attacks has decreased," Jabr said as technicians flashed graphics with English titles on television screens above him. "The number of car bombs has decreased."
He said security forces had rounded up more than 1,300 suspected insurgents and criminals, seized more than $6 million and killed 36 suspected militants during Operation Lightning, which began late last month. "We are tightening the noose on the terrorists in Baghdad," he said.
In the boldest of yesterday's assaults by insurgents in the Baghdad area, a bomber infiltrated the headquarters of an elite Iraqi commando unit, the Wolf Brigade, blowing up himself and three members of the unit during roll call.
Jabr said the attacker was a uniformed former member of the unit who got past layers of security. He said the bomber was probably trying to kill Brig. Gen. Mohammed Qureishi, who was unharmed.
Two Iraqi security contractors escorting a convoy of supplies to a U.S. military base near Fallujah were killed yesterday, apparently by U.S. soldiers who mistook them for insurgents, said an Interior Ministry official and the executive at the company, Sandi Group, which is under contract with the Reston, Va.-based defense company DynCorp. U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said he could not confirm the account.
"Obviously, there was some kind of misunderstanding," said the Sandi Group executive, who agreed to an interview on condition his name not be published out of fear for his safety. "The Americans, whenever they see a car with armed guys, they consider that a threat."
The surge in violence followed more than a week of relative calm. It began when a car bomb exploded Friday night in front of a clinic in the lower-middle-class Shuala neighborhood, killing 11 people, including a pregnant woman.
The bullet-riddled bodies of slain Iraqis, many of them Shiite Muslims with ties to the security apparatuses or government, continued to be found throughout the country.
Police in Latifiya, about 20 miles southwest of Baghdad, found the corpses of 10 Iraqis who had been shot to death and found three people wounded and clinging to life.
The provincial police commander, who asked to be identified by the nickname Abu Harith, said most, perhaps all, of the victims were Shiite laborers heading north for work in Baghdad when they were apparently attacked by Sunni Arabs, who lost privilege and power when Saddam Hussein's government fell and are filling the ranks of the insurgency.
Gunmen shot to death three members of Iraq's special forces in the Washash district of the capital before speeding away.
Oil official killed
The bodies of an Oil Ministry official, his brother and their cousin were found in the Khadra district with their hands bound and showing signs of torture, police said, and the bodies of two Sudanese immigrants were found in the Shuala neighborhood.
The Slovak Embassy was slightly damaged in the car bomb blast. The Central European nation has contributed about 100 troops to the U.S.-led effort, operating under Polish command in the Najaf area. At least three Slovak soldiers have been killed since the Iraq conflict began.