9 American soldiers, security agents killed in Iraq attacks|
BAGHDAD (AP) — The war in Iraq passed a sobering milepost Tuesday when U.S. officials reported nine more Americans were killed — five of them members of the armed forces, raising to more than 1,900 the number of U.S. service members who have died in the country since the invasion.
The announcement came as British and Iraqi officials issued stinging charges and countercharges about the storming of a Basra jail to free two British soldiers who had fallen into the hands of Shiite Muslim militiamen.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shiite who serves as Iraq's national security adviser, said the British operation was "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty."
As the two sides argued, a new poll showed dwindling support among Americans for President Bush's handling of Iraq. Two-thirds in an AP-Ipsos survey said the United States was spending too much in Iraq, and just as many felt the money was not being spent wisely. The poll had a 3 percentage point margin of error.
The latest American deaths, which raised the overall toll to 1,904, included a soldier from the 18th Military Police Brigade killed in a roadside bombing 75 miles north of the capital Tuesday, the military said. (Related video: Blasts kill GIs)
Four soldiers attached to the Marines died Monday in two roadside bombings near the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. They were attached to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
And the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad reported the deaths of a Diplomatic Security agent and three private American security guards whose convoy was hit by a suicide car bomber Monday in the northern city of Mosul. The four were attached to the U.S. Embassy's regional office in Mosul, embassy spokesman Peter J. Mitchell said.
Before the five military deaths were announced Tuesday, a Pentagon count said 1,479 U.S. service members had died in hostile action in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003. The toll includes five military civilians and excludes American service members who died from other causes.
Names of the victims were not released in Baghdad, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a statement issued in New York, identified the Diplomatic Security officer as Stephen Eric Sullivan. His age and address were not given.
"Steve's death is a tragic loss for all of us at the Department of State. Our thoughts and prayers are with Steve's family. We grieve with them in their loss and stand with them at this difficult time," the Rice statement said.
A day after British armored vehicles stormed the jail in Basra to free two commandos, British Defense Minister John Reid said his forces in the southern city were "absolutely right" to act.
But a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the operation was "very unfortunate."
British forces used armor to bash their way into the jail compound late Monday after a day of turmoil that erupted with the arrest of the two commandos. At first Basra police said the men shot and killed a policeman, but on Tuesday the al-Jaafari spokesman, Haydar al-Abadi, said the men — who were wearing civilian clothes — were grabbed for behaving suspiciously and collecting information. (Related story: Britain frees 2 from Basra jail)
The British said the men had been handed over to a militia. The Basra governor confirmed the claim, saying the Britons were in the custody of the al-Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
"The two British were being kept in a house controlled by militiamen when the rescue operation took place," said the governor, Mohammed al-Waili.
"Police who are members of the militia group took them to a nearby house after jail authorities learned the facility was about to be stormed," he said, demanding that the Britons be handed over to local authorities for trial. He would not say what charges they might face.
Officials in Basra, refusing to be named because they feared for their lives, said at least 60% of the police force there is made up of Shiite militiamen from one of three groups: the Mahdi Army; the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution; and Hezbollah in Iraq, a small group based in the marshlands in the south.
All militia have deep historical, religious and political ties to Iran, where many Shiite political and religious figures took refuge during the rule of Saddam Hussein.
The deepening chaos in the south, where the Shiite population had largely welcomed the U.S.-led invasion that freed them from the Saddam's oppressive rule, appears partly a function of local intrigues as the militias and their political backers vie for power.
The 8,500 British forces headquartered in the Basra region have found themselves caught in the emerging conflict. It was believed that the arrest of the commandos Monday and subsequent rioting, which saw British forces jumping from burning armored vehicles under a hail stones and Molotov cocktails, grew out of the British arrest last week of an al-Mahdi Army leader, Sheikh Ahmed Fartosi.
Two reporters associated with The New York Times have been killed in Basra recently after they were abducted by alleged militia members. Fakher Haider, a 38-year-old Iraqi covering Basra for the newspaper, was found dead outside the city on Monday.
On Aug. 2, New York freelance journalist Steven Vincent and his female Iraqi translator were abducted at gunpoint. His body was discovered that night south of Basra. The translator was seriously wounded and remains hospitalized.
Vincent was killed shortly after he wrote a column published in the Times claiming Basra police were of being infiltrated by Shiite militiamen. A senior British official said Islamic militants — and not Iraqi police — probably killed him.
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