More Bloodshed For GIs, Iraqi Civilians

Soldiers from Bravo Troop, 2nd, Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi National Police officers set out on a joint foot patrol in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, March 7, 2007. AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

A powerful bomb killed three American soldiers trying to clear explosives from a highway near Baghdad on Wednesday, and a suicide attacker blew himself up in a cafe northeast of the capital, killing 30 people and wounding dozens.

The deadly assaults occurred as Iraqi security forces struggled to protect more than 1 million Shiite pilgrims streaming toward the holy city of Karbala for annual religious rituals — and facing a string of attacks along the way that have claimed more than 150 lives in two days.

They included 22 people — 12 police commandos and 10 civilians — who died Wednesday in a car bombing at a checkpoint in southern Baghdad set up to protect pilgrims, the U.S. military said. An Iraqi TV cameraman working for a Shiite-owned station was among the civilian dead, his station said.

One American soldier was wounded in the attack on the bombing-clearing team on a major highway just north of the capital, the U.S. military said. The names of the victims were withheld until their families are notified.

American troops have stepped up efforts to clear and secure major highways around the capital as part of the Baghdad security crackdown, which began last month.

But the operation, which will eventually see an additional 17,000 U.S. combat troops in the capital, has so far failed to intimidate Sunni insurgents, who have retaliated with attacks outside the city, including those against Shiite pilgrims.

At least 13 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since Sunday, all of them in Sunni areas north and east of Baghdad. Nine Americans died Monday, the deadliest day for the U.S. military here in nearly a month.

The suicide attack took place near sunset at a popular cafe in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, where Sunni extremists have been forcing Shiites to flee through a campaign of assassination and intimidation.

A senior police officer said dozens of people were gathered around the cafe enjoying mild, sunny weather when the attacker struck, killing 30 people and wounding 25. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his personal safety.

Iraqi security forces have been bracing for more trouble this weekend at the climax of Shiite religious rites marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein's death in a 7th-century battle near Karbala cemented the schism between Sunnis and Shiites.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims were streaming by bus, car and foot into Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, many of them marching behind banners affirming their reverence for Imam Hussein.

The targeted violence came a day after two suicide bombers exploded themselves among pilgrims lining up at a checkpoint, killing at least 120 people and wounding about 190, police and hospital officials said.

In other developments:

  • The Pentagon says it has approved the new U.S. commander in Iraq's request for more military police in Baghdad. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says General David Petraeus asked for 2,200 military police to handle what he expects will be a big bump in detainees during the Baghdad security push. That's on top of the 21,500 combat troops the president is sending to the capital, and the 2,400 others designated to support them.

  • Iran's foreign minister said his government would send a delegation to an international conference in Baghdad this weekend. The conference of Iraq's neighbors and the Big Five of the U.N. Security Council will be the first public encounter between U.S. and Iranian envoys since late 2004.

  • A police lieutenant and his 15-year-old son were shot dead in their car late Tuesday, police said, on a road in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad.

  • In Ramadi, the provincial capital of western Anbar, masked gunmen killed a butcher in his shop, police said.

    • James Klatell

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