Five U.S. soldiers, a dozen Iraqis killed in attacks


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- At least five U.S. soldiers and a dozen Iraqis were reported killed across Iraq yesterday, while the U.S. military announced that five members of a special forces regiment have been charged with abusing three Iraqi detainees.

The detainees were allegedly punched and kicked Sept. 7 as they awaited incarceration, the military said in a statement. An investigation led to the charges against the five soldiers, who belong to the 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Benning, Ga.

South of Baghdad yesterday, four U.S. soldiers were killed when a suicide car bomber struck their vehicle at a checkpoint. Another solder died Sunday when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb near Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad, the military said.

Mortar shells struck a residential Baghdad neighborhood, killing five Iraqis and injuring six. A police convoy in the capital hit a roadside bomb, killing two and injuring two.

In northern Iraq, masked gunmen stormed an Internet cafe in Mosul and killed Ahmed Hussein Malaki, editor in chief of a weekly newspaper. A car bomb near Kirkuk killed four police officers guarding oil facilities.

Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Hamid Shafiq narrowly escaped an assassination attempt near his Baghdad home, and an employee of the Sudanese Embassy was shot in the neck but managed to drive to a hospital and survived.

Meanwhile, 2,500 U.S. military personnel backed by 1,000 Iraqi troops and American warplanes entered the third day of Operation Steel Curtain, a counterinsurgency operation in the Euphrates River valley town of Husaybah, allegedly a stronghold of violent Sunni Arab resistance to the U.S.-led military occupation and Iraq's transitional government, led by Shiites and Kurds.

Insurgents were launching sporadic attacks, sometimes from schools and mosques, the Marines said in a statement. The Marines vowed that U.S. forces would exercise restraint and said "no airstrikes have been conducted against any mosques" during the operation.

Troops conducted house-to-house searches throughout the town, largely emptied of civilians who have fled to makeshift tent cities in the desert. Marines have discovered weapons caches, including homemade bombs, the statement said.

"We are meeting quite a bit of resistance here in Husaybah, but the offensive is going well," Marine Capt. Conlon Carabine told CNN yesterday. "Our strategy is basically to kill the insurgents when we come across them."

Al-Qaida in Iraq warned the Iraqi government to halt the offensive in Husaybah within 24 hours or feel "the earth ... shake beneath their feet."

"Let them know that the price will be very heavy," said an Internet statement purportedly issued by al-Qaida, which has been blamed for some of Iraq's worst terror bombings. Its authenticity could not be confirmed.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have staged numerous large-scale operations to root out insurgents from towns near the Syrian border. But without enough U.S. and Iraqi government manpower to maintain a continuing presence in such areas, insurgents frequently return once the troops depart.

In the latest fighting, one Marine was reported killed. A dozen U.S. soldiers and Marines have been treated at the U.S. Air Force Theater Hospital near Balad in central Iraq, according to the hospital commander, Col. Elisha T. Powell IV.

The number of U.S. casualties received at the hospital from the Euphrates River Valley region, stretching from Baghdad northwest to the Syrian border, has increased in the past two weeks as U.S. forces have stepped up operations to close infiltration routes, Powell said. Several Iraqi Army soldiers wounded in the fighting have been treated at the facility.

The deaths reported yesterday brought to at least 2,051 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the Iraq war started in 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 24 have died this month - most because of roadside bombings.

The announcement of fresh abuse charges came as President Bush vigorously defended U.S. interrogation practices in the war on terror and lobbied against a congressional drive to outlaw torture.

The Army said in a Pentagon statement that the latest alleged incident occurred in Baghdad and that the detainees, all adult males, suffered bruises "caused by striking with a closed and open hand, kicking, and hitting with an object described as a broomstick."

All five soldiers were reassigned to administrative duties, the statement said.

Allegations of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad gained international notoriety in 2004. Nine Army reservists were convicted in that scandal.

Borzou Daragahi and David Zucchino write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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