Three U.S. soldiers were killed in separate attacks north of the Iraqi capital, the military said Wednesday.
Two soldiers died Tuesday in an explosion in Diyala province, the U.S. military said in a statement. Four other soldiers were wounded in the blast and evacuated to a U.S. combat hospital, it said. Diyala is a dangerous area known to have a strong al Qaeda in Iraq presence, northeast of Baghdad.
Another soldier was mortally wounded by gunfire Wednesday while providing security during a training mission for Iraqi police near Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, the military said in another statement.
The victims' names were withheld pending family notification.
Their deaths brought to at least 3,864 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes eight civilians working for the military.
Also Wednesday, Iraqi troops seized the west Baghdad headquarters of a powerful Sunni Muslim group, cordoning off the building and ordering employees out, the group said.
The Association of Muslim Scholars, a hardline Sunni clerics group with links to insurgents, has its headquarters in the Um al-Qura mosque in the capital's Sunni-dominated Ghazaliyhah neighborhood.
Iraqi security forces dispatched by the Sunni Endowment, a government agency that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines, surrounded the mosque complex Wednesday morning and demanded that the building be evacuated before noon, the association said in a statement posted on its Web site.
Employees were told to remove all personal belongings and even haul out furniture, that troops said would be destroyed if left behind, it said. The group also operates a radio station from the mosque, and its transmission signal was ordered cut as well, the statement said.
An official at the Sunni Endowment could not confirm the raid, but said the government had plans to renovate the Um al-Qura mosque, which sits on government property.
"We have nothing against the association...and its members, but we have plans to renovate the mosque and construct more buildings inside," the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
"However, this matter has been seen by the association as a threat to their existence in the mosque," the official said.
The association has long opposed the U.S. military presence in Iraq and has often been at odds with the Shiite-backed government. The association spearheaded the Sunni boycott of the January 2005 elections, which fueled the insurgency.
"We don't understand why the Sunni Endowment acted this way," said al-Faydhi, who lives in Jordan.
Some employees who were already inside the Um al-Qura building when forces arrived staged a sit-in, refusing to leave by the noon deadline, the association said. Security forces were preventing any vehicles from entering the compound, it said.
Before noon, a bulldozer pulled up and wrecked a huge sign etched with the name of the scholars' group, the statement said.
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