A car bomb exploded in a jammed commercial district, turning the sky gray as shops and restaurants caught fire in the most deadly of a string of attacks that killed 21, including a general and colonel who were assassinated.
Iraqis expressed growing fury at the relentless bloodshed, throwing stones at police and U.S. forces who came to the scene of the bombing. More than 90 were also wounded in Thursday's violence.
The attacks came as U.S. troops were in the midst of a major offensive near the Syrian border, 200 miles northwest of Baghdad. Fierce clashes were reported with insurgents on the outskirts of the town of Qaim, where angry residents lashed out at U.S. forces.
"They destroyed our city, killed our children, destroyed our houses. We have nothing left," one man in Qaim told Associated Press Television News. He did not give his name and hid his face with a scarf to address the camera.
Families were fleeing in trucks packed with luggage and APTN footage showed plumes of smoke rising from the town. The U.S. has pounded the area with air strikes, artillery barrages and gunfire in the first days of the offensive aimed at rooting out followers of Iraq's most wanted militant leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Five more American troops died in Iraq, two during the offensive Wednesday and three others when their convoys hit roadside bombs Thursday in Baghdad and surrounding areas, the U.S. military announced. At least 1,611 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
More than 420 people have died in the two weeks since Iraq's first democratically elected government was announced.
In other developments:At the Pentagon, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated Thursday that the insurgency could last for many more years. "This requires patience," he said at a news conference. "This is a thinking and adapting adversary ... I wouldn't look for results tomorrow. One thing we know about insurgencies, that they last from three, four years to nine years."Lawyers for Spc. Sabrina Harman, who posed for some of the most notorious photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, will start trying to convince a military jury that she didn't do anything wrong at the Iraqi prison. The first peek at Harman's defense will likely come as the trial begins Thursday with jury selection and opening statements.The president of the International Narcotics Control Board says drug traffickers from Afghanistan have begun using Iraq to get to Jordan, where they send drugs to Europe and Asia.Elsewhere in the capital, insurgents assassinated Col. Fadhil Mohammed Mobarak on his way to work at the Interior Ministry, and Brig. Gen. Iyad Imad Mahdi, who worked at the Defense Ministry, police said. Al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda group in Iraq claimed responsibility for Mobarak's death in an Internet posting. The claim could not be verified.Two more car bombs exploded in Kirkuk, about 180 miles north of Baghdad, police said. One blast occurred near a police station, killing two people and wounding two, authorities said. The other occurred at a site where explosives experts were dismantling a homemade bomb and two explosive experts were wounded, police said. The Sunni militant Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for both Kirkuk attacks on its Web site, claims which also could not be verified.The brother of kidnapped provincial Gov. Raja Nawaf Farhan al-Mahalawi told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the kidnappers were offering to release the governor in exchange for three al-Zarqawi followers captured by U.S. forces in Qaim. The U.S. military said it does not negotiate with terrorists.A security firm said an eyewitness reported that a Japanese worker taken hostage in Iraq may have suffered fatal wounds. The international security company Hart said in a statement on its Web site that it has not given up hope that Akihito Saito, 44, may be alive.
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