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14 more U.S. troops killed in Iraq; suicide truck bomber strikes city hall in northern town
U.S soldiers of the 2nd brigade, 23rd infantry regiment search a house during a patrol in southern Baghdad, Iraq, on Wednesday, June 20, 2007. - photo by Associated Press
    BAGHDAD — The U.S. command announced Thursday the deaths of 14 more American troops, most killed in powerful roadside bombs in Baghdad. Thick, black smoke rose from the heavily fortified Green Zone after a mortar barrage as militants struck back despite a massive military offensive.
    But as always, attacks claimed far more Iraqi lives.
    A suicide truck bombing outside the Sulaiman Bek city hall in a predominantly Sunni area of northern Iraq killed at least 17 people, including the mayor, and wounded 66, officials said. Blame fell on al-Qaida, which has targeted government officials it accuses of collaborating with U.S. forces and the Iraqi government by participating in the political process.
    ‘‘The enemy’s going to push back, he’s going to try and make us look unsuccessful,’’ military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said. ‘‘We have said it’s going to be a long, tough fight over the summer, this is part of that long, tough fight.’’
    At least 15 servicemen have been killed since Tuesday, including 12 in a series of attacks beginning Wednesday. The military had previously announced one of the deaths.
    The deadliest attack was a roadside bomb that struck a convoy in northeastern Baghdad on Thursday, killing five U.S. soldiers, three Iraqi civilians and one Iraqi interpreter, the military said. About 12:30 p.m. the same day, a rocket-propelled grenade struck a vehicle in northern Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding three others.
    The U.S. military has sought to seize the momentum against al-Qaida and other militants with the arrival in Iraq of some 30,000 additional troops. It has launched several large-scale operations.
    But the military has also faced a series of recent attacks on U.S. forces who are more vulnerable as they increasingly take to the streets and remote outposts, and the bombs appear to be growing more powerful. Some U.S. soldiers have reported a recent increase in the use of rocket-propelled grenades.
    Garver said one of the aims of the latest offensives was to deprive militants of their safe havens where they have been able to assemble huge quantities of explosives.
    ‘‘We have seen in some instances the enemy having the ability to build a bigger bomb in the areas that we have not habitually operated in because they’ve got more time to do that,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re looking to take that ability to build a bigger bomb away from the enemy.’’
    The latest U.S. deaths raised to at least 3,545 the number of American troops who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
    Besides the deaths on Thursday, another powerful roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded another in western Baghdad, and two Marines died in fighting in Anbar province, to the west of the capital.
    Southwest of Baghdad, two soldiers were killed and four were wounded Tuesday when explosions struck near their vehicle, the military said.
    North of the capital in Diyala province, thousands of U.S. troops have been engaged in an offensive against al-Qaida in Iraq that began Monday.
    Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Rubaie, an Iraqi army officer in Diyala, said U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted military operations on the areas of Jurf al Milih and the northern part of the market in the provincial capital, Baqouba.
    ‘‘We are doing well,’’ he said.
    There were some missteps, however. An American airstrike aimed at a booby-trapped house in Baqouba missed its target and ‘‘accidentally hit’’ another structure, wounding 11 civilians on Wednesday, the U.S. military said, adding that it was investigating the incident.
    Just outside Diyala’s border and about 100 miles north of the capital lies Sulaiman Bek, where the truck bombing took place.
    Iraqi commander Maj. Gen. Anwar Hama Amin blamed al-Qaida for the suicide attack and said the terror group was targeting the city’s mayor, Abdullah al-Bayati. The mayor died later of his wounds, said Police Col. Abbas Mohammad, who provided the casualty count.
    Thamir Mohammed, a 28-year-old newlywed, said he was on his way to city hall to get a new ration card when the blast knocked him off his feet.
    ‘‘I was walking in the street heading to the city hall when a truck drove up and parked outside. The driver got out and was just outside the truck when the explosion took place,’’ Mohammed said.
    The force of the blast caused the ceiling to collapse in a small store near the municipal building as the store’s 58-year-old owner, Saleh Mohammed, was pouring water into an air cooler.
    Mohammed, who was wounded, said the explosion could prove a turning point in the relatively peaceful area.
    ‘‘We do not work with the government or with al-Qaida,’’ Mohammed said from his hospital bed. ‘‘But this explosion will force us to take sides either with the government or with al-Qaida because there is no point in being killed while we are doing nothing. The innocent people are targeted like this because they are doing nothing.’’
    In the southern Shiite holy city of Najaf, thousands of protesters waved Iraqi flags and black-and-green Shiite banners with slogans such as ‘‘Death to al-Qaida.’’
    They were showing unity following a bombing last week that brought down the twin minarets of the revered Askariya mosque in Samarra. An earlier bombing, in February 2006, destroyed the same mosque’s golden dome and set in motion an unrelenting cycle of retaliatory sectarian bloodletting.
    Sectarian violence persisted with at least 48 people killed or found dead in attacks nationwide, including 21 bullet-riddled bodies showing signs of torture — the apparent victims of so-called death squads usually run by Shiite militias.
    At the Najaf rally, Ammar al-Hakim — whose father, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq’s largest Shiite political party, is in Iran for cancer treatment — called for unity among all religious sects and criticized a U.S.-Iraqi security plan in Baghdad and surrounding areas, which is now in its fifth month.
    ‘‘The security situation in Baghdad, Diyala and other areas shows that the security plan needs revision and development in order to achieve greater results,’’ al-Hakim said.
    In the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies and major Iraqi government headquarters, was struck anew by apparent mortar barrages in the morning and in the evening.
    At least one mortar round struck a parking lot used by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his security detail, an official from his office said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information. The U.S. Embassy confirmed rounds of indirect fire, the military term for rockets or mortars, but said it did not have information about casualties.
    The attacks raised fresh concerns about the thousands of Americans who live and work in the heavily fortified area in central Baghdad.
    Associated Press writer Yahya Barzanji contributed to this story from Kirkuk, Iraq.

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