Insurgents in western Iraq killed seven U.S. Marines, five of them in an unusually deadly small-arms attack, during one of the bloodiest days for American forces in months, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
The killings, which occurred Monday in two separate clashes, brought the number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq since the March 2003 start of the war to 1,802, including 1,390 in combat, according to figures released by the Pentagon.
Separately, Iraq, claimant to the world's second-largest oil reserves, announced fuel rationing during a summer of miles-long gas lines. The reasons for the rationing cited by government officials and analysts matched a litany of Iraq's problems: insurgent attacks, corruption, decayed infrastructure and mismanagement.
"When is this going to end?" demanded a shopkeeper in a Baghdad neighborhood where a suicide bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy Tuesday, wounding 22 Iraqi civilians and an unspecified number of American troops. As a bystander showed off a cardboard box containing the bomber's body parts, the shopkeeper asked: "When are we going to have quiet again and live like normal people?"
The U.S. Marines' deaths came after weeks in which insurgent attacks have mostly targeted Iraqi civilians, officials and security forces.
All seven were killed in far western Anbar province, which U.S. commanders call a crossroads and hiding place for insurgent fighters, arms and money entering Iraq from neighboring Syria. Since spring, the Marines have mounted at least a half-dozen major campaigns against the insurgents in the west.
A U.S. military statement said six of the Marines died outside Haditha, a city 125 miles northwest of Baghdad that is believed to be a stronghold for foreign insurgents.
The six were conducting "dismounted" operations, meaning they were out of their armored vehicles, when insurgents fired on the men, killing at least five, the statement said. The body of the sixth Marine was recovered one or two miles away, the military said, without saying how he died.
Although bombs in Iraq have occasionally killed a handful of Marines in a single attack, it is unusual for five to die from small-arms fire. Marines outside their armored vehicles generally wear body armor and carry weapons at all times, except when sleeping.
U.S. military statements gave no other details, saying the attack was under investigation.
News agencies said one of Iraq's most violent Islamic guerrilla groups, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, asserted responsibility for the killings. "The lions of monotheism succeeded in killing eight American Marines, slaughtering some of them and shooting the rest after ambushing them," the statement said. The Arabic word for "slaughtering" often refers to killing with a knife.
The seventh Marine killed Monday was a victim of a suicide bomber near Hit, a town 45 miles southeast of Haditha, a U.S. military statement said. It gave no further details.
The bomber hit a military convoy on a bridge, according to Ibrahim Ali, a firefighter who said he saw the attack.
A statement posted at a mosque in Hit asserted responsibility in the name of the Jordanian radical Abu Musab Zarqawi and lauded a Yemeni man it said had carried out the suicide attack.
In another incident, an American journalist was shot and killed in the southern city of Basra, the Reuters news agency reported. Steven Vincent, author of "In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq,'' was working on another book on Iraq when he was killed by unknown assailants.
In Baghdad, Iraqis reacted with frustration Monday to an announcement by the Oil Ministry that it would start fuel rationing next month with an eye toward making sure Iraqis have enough heating oil for the winter.
While second only to Saudi Arabia in crude reserves, Iraq imports hundreds of millions of dollars of refined petroleum products. The country's own refineries are dilapidated and inadequate. Frequent insurgent attacks disrupt supply, and smugglers divert tons of gasoline to neighboring countries. With electrical outages almost round-the-clock this summer in Baghdad, generators also eat up supplies of diesel fuel and gas.
Rationing was one of a list of measures that Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr Uloom announced to try to improve supply. Others included an anti-corruption campaign and a promise to keep some fuel stations open 24 hours a day to deal with the miles-long lines.
In a two-mile-long line on Tuesday, a university student, Saman Mohammed, said the measures would only make Iraq's more readily available black-market gas more expensive. He wondered why Iraqis saw so little of their country's fuel riches.
"Our country is collapsed and became like fallen prey, and the beasts are eating it," Mohammed said. "But eventually, it is our fault. Everyone in this country should cooperate in order to build this country."
Special correspondent Bassam Sebti contributed to this report.