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9 U.S. soldiers killed, 20 wounded in Iraq attack

    BAGHDAD - In one of the deadliest attacks on American ground forces since the Iraq war started more than four years ago, a suicide car bomber struck a patrol base northeast of Baghdad and killed nine U.S. soldiers and wounded 20, officials said.

An insurgent group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a Web statement Tuesday.

An Iraqi civilian also was wounded in the attack on Task Force Lightning soldiers in Diyala province, a volatile area that has been the site of fierce fighting involving U.S. and Iraqi troops, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.

Of the 20 wounded in the attack on the patrol base, 15 soldiers were treated and returned to duty while five others and the Iraqi were evacuated to a medical facility for further care, the military said.

It was the single deadliest attack on ground forces since Dec. 1, 2005, when a roadside bomb killed 10 Marines and wounded 11 on a foot patrol near Fallujah.

Twelve soldiers died when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Diyala on Jan. 20. The military said it might have been shot down but the investigation is still ongoing.

In other devastating attacks, 14 Marines were killed when a roadside bomb struck an amphibious assault vehicle near the western town of Haditha on Aug. 3, 2005. And a suicide bomber struck a mess tent in a base near Mosul on Dec. 21, 2004, killing 22 people, including 14 U.S. soldiers and three American contractors.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of Sunni militants that includes al-Qaida in Iraq, said in the posting that it was behind Monday's attack on a U.S. patrol base in Diyala province.

The attack _ one of the deadliest on American ground forces since the Iraq war started more than four years ago _ killed nine American soldiers and wounded 20, the military said.

Monday's attack was the second bold attack against a U.S. base north of Baghdad in just over two months and was notable for its use of a suicide car bomber. Militants have mostly used hit-and-run ambushes, roadside bombs or mortars on U.S. troops and stayed away from direct assaults on fortified military compounds to avoid U.S. firepower.

On Feb. 19, insurgents struck a U.S. combat post in Tarmiyah, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, killing two soldiers and wounding 17 in what the military called a "coordinated attack." It began with a suicide car bombing followed by gunfire on soldiers pinned down in a former Iraqi police station where fuel storage tanks were set ablaze by the blast.

American troops are facing increasing danger as they step up their presence in outposts and police stations in the Baghdad area as part of the security crackdown to which President Bush has committed an extra 30,000 troops.

Sunni militants are believed to have withdrawn to surrounding areas such as Diyala province where they have safe haven. The U.S. command also deployed an extra 700 soldiers to the area last month.

A U.S. soldier also was killed Monday in a roadside bombing in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, a predominantly Shiite area that also is in Diyala, the military said in an earlier statement. A British soldier was shot to death while on patrol in the southern city of Basra, officials said.

The deaths raised to 85 the number of U.S. service members who died have in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month for American troops since December, when 112 died.

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