By Ernesto Londoño and Qais Mizher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
BAGHDAD, Feb. 9 -- Four American soldiers and an interpreter were killed Monday in a suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in Iraq since May.
The military said three of the service members were killed shortly after a person in a vehicle set off explosives. The fourth soldier and the interpreter working with the unit died later from wounds suffered in the blast, according to the military.
An Iraqi official in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, said a person driving a pickup truck loaded with explosives rammed into a U.S. armored vehicle about 11 a.m. in the city's Jadid district.
The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the attack also wounded two Iraqi policemen and a civilian.
Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, remains among the country's most dangerous. Although attacks in Nineveh province have decreased substantially, al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups remain active in Mosul and some outlying areas.
The attack comes a week after provincial elections in Nineveh took place peacefully despite fears that they would incite violence.
Brig. Gen. Robert Brown, the top U.S. commander in Mosul, said recently that the insurgency in Nineveh has lost the widespread tacit support it had just a year ago.
"I would describe al-Qaeda in Iraq as a dying snake," the general told reporters in Mosul. "They still have a punch but not like they had before."
He said the number of attacks daily in the province has dropped to single-digit levels in recent weeks, from a high of more than 50 a day in 2004.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said they planned to launch what would be the fourth crackdown in less than a year in the weeks after the Jan. 31 provincial election, during which Sunni Arabs gained control of the province from Kurds.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, Iraq's minister of justice said Monday that four Iraqi detainees who were recently repatriated after spending years at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have no outstanding legal proceedings in Iraq.
"There is no reason to keep them in our jails," Safaa al-Safi said Monday night in a phone interview.
He said that the men are being interrogated by Iraqi officials and that it is unclear when the former Guantanamo detainees will be released.
Also on Monday, Iraqi officials in Diwaniyah province identified a 12-year-old girl shot Sunday by U.S. soldiers. Saadiya Saddam Shedhan and her mother were part of a religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala in observance of the end of a 40-day period that commemorates the death of Shiite Islam's most revered figure.
Col. Asaad Malik, the director of the provincial joint coordination center, said American soldiers who were part of a logistics convoy used a loudspeaker to instruct pilgrims to get out of the road. Shortly after the warning, a soldier opened fire, he said.
The convoy didn't stop, Iraqi officials said.
The U.S. military said in a statement that the weapon "was unintentionally discharged." It did not provide more information about the shooting, which it said is under investigation.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.