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06-21-2007, 07:36 PM
Fourteen US soldiers killed in three days of fighting


Published: Thursday June 21, 2007

Fourteen US soldiers have been killed in three days of fighting, the military announced on Thursday, as US-led troops continued to press simultaneous offensives in and around Baghdad.

The news came hours after a suicide bomber exploded an oil tanker south of Iraq's oil-rich city of Kirkuk, killing 15 people and wounding 66, including policemen and local politicians.

The bomber blew up the tanker outside police headquarters and a cluster of government buildings in Suleiman Beg, about 90 kilometres (55 miles) from the northern city of Kirkuk, police and hospital officials said.

"Several of the wounded are city council members and police officers, including the chief of police in Suleiman Beg, Hassan Ali Al-Bayati," a local hospital official said.

The latest attack -- two days after a Baghdad bomb killed 87 people -- was carried out as the US military pressed an air and ground assault on suspected Al-Qaeda strongholds north of Baghdad.

The military said by Thursday it had killed 41 people it described as insurgents and had destroyed some of their hideouts in the restive Diyala province, long considered one of the deadliest areas in Iraq.

But as US troops have channeled a recently completed troop "surge" into a belt of insurgent strongholds around the capital they have met stiff resistance and suffered increasing casualties.

On Thursday five US soldiers, an Iraqi interpreter, and three Iraqi civilians were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in northeastern Baghdad, the military said in a statement.

A sixth soldier and two Iraqi civilians were wounded in the attack.

Another soldier was killed and three others wounded in Baghdad on Thursday when their vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

On Wednesday four soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, and two marines were killed in combat operations in the western Anbar province.

Another two soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Tuesday, the US military said on Thursday, correcting a previous report.

The latest deaths bring total US casualties for this month alone to 59, with at least 3,536 since the March 2003 invasion, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

Around 10,000 US and Iraqi troops backed by attack helicopters and armoured vehicles continued to battle alleged Al-Qaeda militants in Diyala.

Operation Arrowhead Ripper is viewed as the biggest full-fledged assault on insurgents since the November 2004 operation against the former rebel town of Fallujah and is aimed at destroying the group's strongholds in the province.

"Our combined forces have begun destroying Al-Qaeda operatives and their resources in and around Diyala province," US commander Brigadier General Mick Bednarek said in a statement released overnight.

The forces destroyed three "enemy safe houses" and a number of roadside bombs, it said, adding ground forces also found a house booby-trapped with homemade explosives in the Khatoon neighbourhood near Baquba.

The military said air support was called in to destroy the house but a bomb missed its target and struck another nearby structure wounding 11 civilians.

The original target was later destroyed with missiles which produced a "large secondary explosion confirming the house as containing a large amount of explosives", it said.

Ethnically mixed Diyala and its capital of Baquba have emerged as hotbeds of Al-Qaeda since Iraq's sectarian conflict broke out in earnest in February 2006.

In a separate operation southeast of Baghdad the military captured more than 60 suspected insurgents and destroyed 17 boats allegedly being used to transport fighters and weapons.

The US military says it expects the present offensives to trigger a counter-attack from Al-Qaeda.

Speaking to The Times of London from Baghdad, General David Petraeus, the chief of US forces in Iraq, said on Wednesday that the network was "obviously going to have a surge of their own.

"You saw an example of this yesterday (Tuesday)," he said, referring to the massive truck bomb in Baghdad.

Insurgents fired about three mortar rounds on Thursday onto Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi parliament and site of the US and British embassies. No casualties were reported.

South of Baghdad, a suicide car bomb ploughed into a police base, killing two policemen and wounding at least 10 other people, including civilians, security officials said.

And in the town of Iskandiriyah, south of Baghdad, a local representative of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his bodyguard were shot dead on their way to work, a police official said.