By John Ward Anderson and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 21, 2007
BAGHDAD, May 20 -- Six U.S. soldiers and an interpreter were killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded near their position in western Baghdad, the U.S. military reported Sunday, underscoring the heightened vulnerability of U.S. forces as they increase their presence in the capital.
A seventh U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Saturday in Diwaniyah, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, the military said. Two soldiers were wounded in that attack.
The deaths raise to 71 the number of U.S. soldiers killed this month, according to iCasualties.org, an independent Web site that tracks military deaths. Twenty-one U.S. service members were killed over three days last week, from Thursday to Saturday, according to the group's tally.
The rising death toll comes as thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi troops are engaged in a high-profile operation to improve security in the capital. U.S. officials warned when they announced the plan in mid-February that putting as many as 25,000 additional U.S. troops in the urban environment would raise their exposure and vulnerability, and that higher casualty rates were expected.
Military deaths have been rising since last fall, and the first half of this year has already been deadlier than any six-month period since the war began more than four years ago. According to iCasualties.org, 531 U.S. service members have been killed since Dec. 1, an average of more than three deaths a day, while 3,422 have died since the war began in March 2003.
The troops killed Saturday in Baghdad were part of an operation searching for weapons caches and bomb-making materials in the western part of the city over the past week "to aid in providing a more secure and safe environment for the Iraqi people," the military said in a statement.
In an unrelated development, U.S. forces on Saturday killed a man they said was the organizer of a well-planned guerrilla assault in January in which gunmen, posing as Americans, drove into a government compound in the southern Shiite holy city of Karbala, killed a U.S. soldier, then abducted four other U.S. soldiers, who were later killed.
Azhar al-Dulaimi was killed in a raid on a building north of Sadr City, a large Shiite district in the capital, said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the U.S. military's top spokesman in Iraq. He said Dulaimi initially appeared to surrender but was shot while attempting to grab a soldier's gun and died en route to the hospital.
Dulaimi was linked to the Karbala attack by fingerprints found at the scene, Caldwell said, adding that other evidence showed that Dulaimi was trained by Iranian intelligence operatives and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah. Dulaimi was also linked to the kidnapping of an Iraqi American soldier in October and a mass kidnapping at an Iraqi Education Ministry building last year, Caldwell said. There was no indication that the Iranian government had ordered the Karbala attack, Caldwell said.
Meanwhile, more than two dozen Iraqis were reported killed by roadside bombs, suicide attacks, mortar strikes and other violence Sunday. In addition, Iraqi national police reported finding 32 bodies Sunday: 22 in Baghdad, six in Mahmudiyah, about 15 miles south of the capital, and four in the northern city of Mosul.
An Iraqi police official in Baghdad, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said Interior Ministry forces clashed with insurgents who were spotted digging trenches in Dora, a Sunni Arab neighborhood in south Baghdad, and killed 14 in an ensuing firefight.
The U.S. military said it killed eight insurgents and arrested 34 in separate operations in Karmah, a Sunni area about 20 miles west of Baghdad, and in an area southwest of the capital.
Also Sunday, a senior Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who had flown to the United States last week for an emergency medical diagnosis, left the country early Sunday for Iran, the Associated Press reported.
Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq and one of the country's most powerful politicians, received a diagnosis of lung cancer and will receive chemotherapy in Iran, where he spent more than two decades in exile during the rule of Saddam Hussein, the news agency reported.