Soldiers killed

3 U.S.

Iraq bombing also destroyed their armored vehicle

July 09, 2006|By JULIAN E. BARNES AND BORZOU DARAGAHI | JULIAN E. BARNES AND BORZOU DARAGAHI,LOS ANGELES TIMES

RAMADI, Iraq -- Three U.S. soldiers scouring the treacherous roads of western Iraq for remote-controlled explosive devices were killed by a massive roadside bomb that destroyed their heavily protected vehicle, U.S. military officials said yesterday.

In Baghad, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched the third operation in two days targeting leaders of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

And at least 10 Iraqi civilians were reported killed in political violence around the country.

The three soldiers were part of the U.S. Army 1st Armored Division's Task Force Dagger, which sweeps major roads in Ramadi for bombs.

They were riding in a heavily armored Cougar, a vehicle designed to withstand roadside bombs and used in mine-sweeping operations.

The Pentagon ordered 122 of the mine-sweeping Cougars, worth a total of $87 million, last year from Force Protection Inc., a Ladson, S.C., firm.

The Cougars "feature armor-plated V-shaped bottoms designed to deflect the upward explosive power of roadside bombs," according to the company's Web site.

But since the 1st Armored Division units moved into the area, some Marines say they believe insurgents have been placing larger roadside bombs to take out the Germany-based unit's fleet of armored tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.

Bombs assembled in makeshift factories, planted discreetly along roadways and detonated by remote control have become Sunni Arab insurgents' weapon of choice in their three-year guerrilla war against U.S. forces and the Iraqi government.

American and Iraqi troops have also begun confronting Shiite militiamen. In yesterday's operation, they surrounded a southeastern Baghdad mosque suspected of hosting a Mahdi Army militia leader.

An Iraqi Ministry of Defense source said the U.S. and Iraqi forces withdrew from the area shortly before midnight without detaining anyone.

Sadr City political leaders announced Friday that they were suspending their cooperation with U.S. forces and Iraqi troops after a raid Friday meant to capture a militia leader in the Baghdad slum. U.S. and Iraqi officials said the leader, a well-known crime boss nicknamed Abu Deraa, had been caught in the raid, but other officials cast doubt on the account yesterday.

Another Mahdi Army leader was detained Friday south of the capital. The militia is suspected of involvement in kidnapping-for-ransom rings as well as death squad operations carried out against Sunni Arabs.

Elsewhere in the capital, a car bomb explosion near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad killed three Iraqis and injured 12, all passersby on their way to nearby shops.

A barrage of mortar shells struck an area of houses and shops in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, killing three civilians and injuring four.

An insurgent attack on a U.S. convoy near the northern city of Kirkuk led to the death of two Iraqi civilians in the ensuing gunfire.

In the southern city of Basra, gunmen killed two civilians, including one working for a cell phone company.

Julian E. Barnes and Borzou Daragahi write for the Los Angeles Times.

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