Five U.S. troops, four soldiers and a Marine, have been killed in western Iraq as the military launched its second major operation in the region in four days. Operation "Iron Fist" was being conducted near the Syrian border and operation "River Gate" has been launched in the Euphrates River valley.
The military says the Marine was killed by a roadside bomb yesterday. It's the first announced U.S. death in the major western Iraq sweep that began over the weekend.
Three soldiers assigned to the same unit as the Marine were killed by another roadside bomb while conducting combat operations in another town where the second major offensive started Tuesday in a cluster of cities in the Euphrates River valley. This operation is aimed at insurgents using the area as a safe haven in a region where 20 Marines were killed in August.
Air strikes by U.S. warplanes and dozens of helicopters set off explosions that lit the city skylines of Haqlaniyah, Parwana and Haditha before dawn. Bridges across the Euphrates River between Haqlanaiyah and Haditha were bombed to prevent insurgents from using them. About 2,500 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors, and hundreds of Iraqi troops, took part in the operation, codenamed River Gate.
The military also says it's investigating the fatal shooting of a soldier yesterday near Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.
At least 1,941 U.S. military members have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003.
In related developments:
Iraqi lawmakers have approved the death penalty for anyone financing or provoking terrorism. It's in response to the almost daily suicide bombings in Iraq. The Associated Press has obtained a copy of the law, which states that anyone who provokes, plans or finances acts of terrorism will be subject to capital punishment.
The United Nations has expressed concern to the Iraqi government that last-minute changes to its electoral laws before the Oct. 15 referendum on a draft constitution do not meet international standards. But U.N. officials have been meeting with Iraqi authorities and are confident that Iraq will ultimately agree to sound electoral rules, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Sunni Arab leaders have threatened to boycott the Oct. 15 vote because of new rules put forth by the Shiite-led parliament.
President Bush Tuesday urged Congress to make budget cuts to aid the Gulf Coast recovery, but he said the nation will continue to spend whatever it takes to support U.S. troops in Iraq. Bush claimed progress on training Iraqi forces to take over the security of their country — a key measure for when American troops can begin coming home — despite last week's statement from the top U.S. commander there that only one Iraqi battalion, down from three, is ready to fight without U.S. help.
A suicide car bomb exploded at a checkpoint at the main entrance of Baghdad's Green Zone on Tuesday, killing two Iraqi policemen and wounding five, police said. The high-security area is home to Iraq's parliament and the U.S. Embassy. The explosion, which sent plumes of black smoke up over the Green Zone, occurred at about 1:20 p.m. at the gate that many Iraqi employees use to enter and leave the area where they work for Iraq's government or for the U.S. and British embassies. The powerful blast killed two Iraqi policemen and wounded five, said police Lt. Mohammed Kheyon. The sound of gunfire was heard after the explosion, but Kheyon said he had no immediate information about that.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has urged supporters to intensify attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces during the holy month of Ramadan and called for a boycott of next week's constitutional referendum. The call to boycott the national vote on the new Iraqi constitution was issued in an Internet posting Tuesday, while the exhortation to increased attacks was published on the Web a day earlier.
An Iraqi court on Tuesday sentenced 28 people, including two Saudis, a Yemeni and an Algerian, to prison terms for committing terrorist crimes in Iraq. The Iraqi Central Criminal Court sentenced Khudeir Abdellah Mahmoud, a Saudi, to 20 years after earlier convicting him of illegally entering Iraq to assist terrorists and for conducting terrorist attacks on the citizens.
In Ramadi, insurgents using rocket-propelled grenades hit two Iraqi military vehicles, and seven militants were killed in the fighting that resulted. Mortars also were shot at a U.S. base in Ramadi, causing no casualties, and soldiers returned fire with artillery. Insurgents wearing black hoods were seen carrying machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in Ramadi's streets, and Iraqi civilians gathered around the two burning Iraqi army pickup trucks.