NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov. 7 -- More than 30 people were killed and more than 60 wounded in a rash of suicide bombings and mortar and rocket attacks in the Sunni Triangle on Saturday, as U.S. Marines and soldiers prepared for a possible assault on the rebel-held city of Fallujah.
The wounded included at least 16 U.S. soldiers injured when a suicide bomber rammed a car into their convoy in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, U.S. officials said.
U.S. Marines outside Fallujah bow their heads in prayer as the military prepared for a possible assault on the Iraqi city, which is held by rebels.
(Anja Niedringhaus -- AP)
[On Sunday, insurgents launched deadly attacks against police stations in western Anbar province killing at least 22 more people, police and hospital officials said, the Associated Press reported.]
The deadliest violence occurred Saturday morning in Samarra, a city about 65 miles north of Baghdad that U.S. and Iraqi forces retook from insurgents early last month. A series of closely coordinated attacks killed about 30 people, according to tallies by news services, which canvassed hospitals. More than half of the casualties were Iraqi police officers killed in mortar attacks or ground assaults on police stations.
At 9:30 a.m. in Samarra, a car bomb hidden in a stolen Iraqi police truck exploded after U.S. soldiers fired on it as it approached the office of the mayor, who was installed with the backing of U.S. troops last month. One American and four Iraqi soldiers were wounded, the military said.
A half-hour later, a car bomb detonated near a U.S.-Iraqi patrol on the east side of Samarra and a mortar shell hit an outdoor market.
A military spokesman said he could not confirm an Associated Press report quoting a hospital official as saying the fatalities included an Iraqi National Guard commander, Abdel Razeq Shaker Garmali.
"There was an attempt by the insurgents to conduct a coordinated attack, but many of their attempts were ineffective," said Capt. Bill Coppernoll, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division. The division issued a statement calling the attacks "desperate" and declaring that its forces, along with at least two battalions of Iraqi forces, remained in firm control of the city of 250,000.
But Samarra residents said the violence threw the city into turmoil. Helicopters roared overhead, gunfire echoed through much of the day and U.S. forces imposed a curfew starting at noon. U.S. and Iraqi forces also closed down the main bridge leading into the city, firing toward boats that attempted to cross the Tigris River.
Hours after the attacks began, Fallujah's mujaheddin shura, or council of holy warriors, which governs the city, issued a statement in which it threatened to "launch wide military operations within the first hours of the U.S. attack on Fallujah, to open several fronts at the same time." The statement said insurgents were standing by in the cities of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Basra and Samarra.
In Baghdad, at least one Iraqi civilian was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near a military convoy in the western part of the city, the military said. Three U.S. soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Explosions echoed across the capital after dark, and residents said they were bracing for insurgent attacks when the U.S. assault on Fallujah begins.
The U.S. military has stepped up operations around Fallujah in advance of an expected offensive to retake the city, which has been controlled by insurgents since April. U.S. warplanes pounded enemy positions and stockpiles of weapons in the city Friday night and into Saturday, while Marine and Army units on the outskirts of the city staged a moonlit battle rehearsal that one Army officer described as a "boxing match" to see what kind of punch the insurgents would throw back.
The U.S. military cordoned off the city and threatened to arrest anyone younger than 45 who tried to flee.