US Deaths in Iraq Exceed 9/11

Baghdad, Iraq (AP) -- At least 54 Iraqis died Tuesday in bombings, officials said, including a coordinated strike that killed 25 in western Baghdad. Separately, the U.S. military announced the deaths of seven American soldiers, raising the death toll significantly in one of the bloodiest months for the military this year.

The three coordinated car bombs in western Baghdad injured at least 55 people, a doctor at Yarmouk hospital, where the victims were taken, said on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. The attacks occurred in a mixed Sunni and Shiite neighborhood.

In other attacks, a car bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in northern Baghdad at the beginning of the evening rush hour, killing 17 people and wounding 35, a doctor at Al-Nuaman hospital said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A bomb also exploded in a central Baghdad market, killing four people and wounding 15, police said. Two roadside bombs targeted an Iraqi police patrol in an eastern neighborhood of the capital, killing four policemen and injuring 12 people.

In Kirkuk, 180 miles north of the Iraqi capital, a roadside bomb killed three civilians - including an 8-year-old girl - and wounded six other people, police said.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced the deaths of seven more American soldiers, pushing the U.S. military death toll for the month to 90. With five days remaining in the month, December is already the second deadliest month for the U.S. military this year, behind the 105 soldiers killed in October.

In Washington, White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said Tuesday that President Bush grieves for each member of the armed forces who has died.

"The war on terror is going to be a long struggle," he said. "We will be fighting violent jihadists for the peace and security of the civilized world for many years to come."

The latest deaths also brought the number of U.S. military members killed since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978 - five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

President Bush has said the Iraq war is part of the United States' post-Sept. 11 approach to threats abroad. Going on the offense against enemies before they could harm Americans meant removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, pursuing members of al-Qaida and seeking Saddam Hussein's ouster in Iraq, Bush has said.

There has been no direct evidence of links between Saddam's regime and the Sept. 11 attacks. Democratic leaders have said the Bush administration has gotten the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, detracting from efforts against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

The Associated Press count of those U.S. military members killed in Iraq includes at least seven military civilians. Prior to the deaths announced Tuesday, the AP count was 15 higher than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday. At least 2,377 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

American troops fought gunmen in a Shiite militia stronghold in east Baghdad on Tuesday, witnesses said.

Fighters loyal to the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr engaged in the clashes with U.S. forces in and near Sadr City, an official in al-Sadr's office said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There was no immediate word on casualties.

British soldiers were on alert for reprisals a day after they raided a police station in the southern city of Basra, killing seven gunmen in an effort to stop renegade Iraqi officers from executing their prisoners.

"We fully expect more attacks on our bases and on Basra stations, but that's nothing out of the ordinary," said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a military spokesman. "But this is part of a long-term rehabilitation of the Iraqi police service, to make it more effective and more accountable, and ultimately provide better security for the people of Basra."

After the British stormed the police station, they removed 127 prisoners, who showed evidence of torture, then evacuated the building before blowing it up, he said.

Burbridge had previously said only 76 prisoners were in the station, but later said soldiers miscounted the prisoners because the operation was done under cover of darkness.

Some 800 of the British military's 7,200 troops in Iraq were involved in the operation, he said.

A spokesman for Iraq's defense minister said Monday that the Iraqi Interior and Defense ministries approved the Basra operation, but some members of the Basra provincial council said they were not notified.

"We object to the way the operation was conducted," council member Hakim al-Maiyahi told The Associated Press. "There was no need to bring in such a huge number of forces and break down the station."

Burbridge acknowledged the council members' concerns, but said British officials had alerted the provincial governor, Mohammed al-Waili, who approved the operation.

"He told us it was the right thing - the way forward. He supported our activity," Burbridge said.

Al-Waili refused to comment on the matter.

Elsewhere, Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit said Tuesday that a former Iraqi Cabinet minister who escaped from a Baghdad prison this month had arrived in Jordan on a U.S. plane.

Ayham al-Samaraie, a former minister of electricity with dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, had been serving time for corruption when he escaped mid-December.

Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the U.S. government was not involved in al-Samaraie's escape "in any way." He denied in "unequivocal terms" the claim that al-Samaraie flew out of Iraq on an American plane.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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