5 Americans Killed; Baghdad Hit By Bomb

A young boy gazes up at an Iraqi soldier, right, during a joint operation with the U.S. army and the 1920 Revolution Brigade in north Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, July 25, 2007. AP Photo

A parked car bomb exploded near a market in a predominantly Shiite area in Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 21 people and wounding more than 60, police said. The U.S. military also said four American troops had died in fighting northeast of the capital, raising to five the number reported killed.

Smoke billowed into the sky after the thunderous explosion, which also left nine cars burned and set a three-story building on fire in the busy Karradah shopping district, according to police and hospital officials who gave the casualty toll.

It was the deadliest in a series of attacks that left more than 40 people dead nationwide.

The three U.S. Marines and a sailor died Tuesday while conducting combat operations in Diyala province — the site of a major military operation against a Sunni insurgent stronghold, the military said Thursday. It announced earlier that a U.S. soldier had been killed Wednesday during a gun battle in southern Baghdad.

Identities of the dead were withheld pending notification of relatives.

Earlier Thursday, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top day-to-day U.S. commander in Iraq, expressed cautious optimism over a decline in the number of American troops killed this month.

At least 64 U.S. troops have died so far in July, after the death toll topped 100 for the previous three months, according to an Associated Press tally based on military statements.

Odierno said it appeared that casualties had increased as fresh U.S. forces expanded operations into militant strongholds as part of the five-month-old security operation aimed at clamping off violence in the capital, but were going down as the Americans gained control of the areas.

"We've started to see a slow but gradual reduction in casualties, and it continues in July," he said at a joint news conference with Iraqi military commander Maj. Gen. Abboud Qanbar. "It's an initial positive sign, but I would argue we need a bit more time to make an assessment whether it's a true trend."

(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
On a less positive note, Odierno (seen at left) said the military had noted a "significant improvement" in the aim of attackers firing rockets and mortars into the heavily fortified Green Zone in the past three months, a trend he linked to training in Iran.

Odierno said networks continue to smuggle powerful roadside bombs and mortars across the border from Iran despite Tehran's assertions that it supports stability in Iraq.

His remarks came two days after the U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq met in Baghdad and agreed to establish a security committee to jointly address the violence amid Washington's allegations that Tehran is fueling the violence by support Shiite militias. Odierno said the military also believes training of extremists is being conducted in Iran.

"One of the reasons why we're sitting down with the Iranian government ... is trying to solve some of these problems," Odierno said at a news conference in the Green Zone, which is home to the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government headquarters.

"We have seen in the last three months a significant improvement in the capability of mortarmen and rocketeers to provide accurate fires into the Green Zone and other places, and we think this is directly related to training that is conducted in Iran," Odierno said. "So we continue to go after these networks with the Iraqi security forces."

Iran has denied the U.S. allegations about its activities in Iraq.

Attacks against the sprawling complex along the Tigris River in the center of Baghdad have increased in recent months, adding to the concern over the safety of key Iraqi and international officials and thousands of U.S. soldiers and contractors who live and work there.

On July 10, a barrage of more than a dozen mortars or rockets struck the area, killing at least three people, including an American, and wounding 18. In a report last month, the United Nations office in Baghdad said the "threat of indirect fire" — meaning rockets and mortars — into the Green Zone had increased, adding that the barrages had become "increasingly concentrated and accurate."

In other developments:

  • Jordan and Syria complained Thursday they have been abandoned by the West to deal with the massive burden of more than 2 million Iraqi refugees who have fled the violence in their homeland.

  • A roadside bomb struck a police patrol on the road between Hillah and Diwaniyah on Thursday, killing five officers and wounding two as they were on their way home from an operation with U.S. forces, police said. Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, has been the site of heavy clashes between U.S.-Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia fighters.

  • Baghdad residents swept up debris from bloodstained pavement a day after two suicide bombings killed at least 50 cheering, dancing, flag-waving fans celebrating Iraq's national soccer team's semifinal victory in the Asian Cup tournament. The attacks bore the hallmarks of Sunni militants who have fueled the violence in Iraq for nearly four years. The bombings, in parked cars less than an hour apart in separate corners of Baghdad, appeared designed to gain attention rather than target a particular sect.

  • CBS News reporter Vicki Barker reports an international conference is under way in Jordan to try and figure out how the region should deal more than 4 million people displaced from their homes by violence in Iraq. The United Nations is seeking money from the international community, and is also asking the U.S., European Union and Britain to help re-settle more refugees.

  • Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi's office said the moderate Sunni leader had met with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Wednesday to discuss his political bloc's objections to the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The meeting occurred on the same day al-Hashemi's Iraqi Accordance Front suspended membership in the government, a bid that appeared timed to deepen disenchantment in Washington with the Shiite prime minister's faltering leadership.
    • James Klatell

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