5 servicemen killed in Iraq

Deaths of Americans occur as Gates, new defense chief, wraps up a 3-day visit

December 23, 2006|By Solomon Moore | Solomon Moore,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Five U.S. servicemen were killed yesterday in violence in Iraq.

Insurgents killed three Marines and one sailor in Anbar province, and one soldier was killed in an attack in Baghdad that included small-arms fire and explosives, authorities said.

The killings raised the number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq conflict to 2,963, according to the Associated Press.

The deaths came as newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wrapped up a three-day visit to Iraq, during which he met with U.S. military commanders and Iraqi leaders to assess the situation before a briefing Monday with President Bush, who is weighing options for a new strategy in Iraq.

Iraqi politicians' responses were mixed. Most say they would welcome additional U.S. efforts to train and equip Iraqi security forces, but some Iraqi leaders have concerns about U.S. proposals to increase the number of its troops.

"The Iraqis want - before any actual increase in the number of American troops - to expand the Iraqi role in handling security," said Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite politician with close ties to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "The Americans, on the other hand, want to bring 20,000 to 30,000 troops to secure Baghdad for two to three months. Iraqi commanders wonder if such a large number is needed."

In sermons yesterday, Muslim clerics criticized the ineffectiveness of the national government, lamented continuing sectarian violence and condemned politicians who had left Iraq to make the pilgrimage to Mecca while the country is in crisis.

Muslims around the world are observing the holy days of Eid, which end the season of pilgrimage and bring in the new Islamic year.

"Some leaders appear on television as they perform pilgrimage to Mecca, and they are shown as they pray and fast," said Sheik Harith al-Obaidi, a Sunni cleric in Baghdad. "But when they are alone by themselves, they are quite different. These leaders are butchers who mention the name of God as they slaughter the sheep, just as they mention the name of God and kill people. They mention the name of God and imprison people. They mention the name of God and displace people."

A Sunni cleric was kidnapped in northeast Baghdad after delivering his sermon.

In other violence, at least 19 Iraqis were reported killed in Iraq, including 12 bodies found in Baghdad yesterday. All had bullet wounds, but none showed signs of torture, Iraqi police said.

In Kut in southern Iraq, police said the body of a young man was retrieved from a river, and a motorcycle bomb killed one person.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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