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3 U.S. Soldiers Killed In Iraq

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.

(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
A spokesman for the association, Mohammed Bahsar al-Faydi, told The Associated Press that he believed the troops raiding the mosque were not government forces but the personal guards of Ahmed Abdul-Ghafoor al-Samarraie, the head of the Sunni Endowment, seen at left.

"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.

In other developments:

  • U.S. Federal agents have found that the killings of at least 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians shot by Blackwater Worldwide security personnel in a September confrontation were unjustified and violated rules for the use of deadly force, The New York Times reported.
  • Police said a roadside bomb blew up next to a U.S. military patrol near the Green Zone Wednesday. The explosion shook central Baghdad and many residents believed it was a truck bomb because of the magnitude of the blast. Two civilians died and three others were also wounded, police said. There was no report of U.S. casualties. Hours later, a car bomb exploded in northeastern Baghdad, killing one civilian and wounding seven others, police said.
  • Tensions between Iraq and Turkey have subsided and relations are improving, asserted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in an interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper Wednesday. "The crisis with Turkey has passed," he said, without further explanation. His remarks came even as Turkish helicopters swooped into Iraqi territory Tuesday firing on villages in renewed efforts to dislodge the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy for Turkish Kurds since 1984.
  • Clashes were under way in two villages - one Shiite and one mixed - east of Baqouba, Diyala's provincial capital. Police said al Qaeda in Iraq used to control both villages, but that U.S. and Iraqi forces forced them out a few weeks ago. About 40 displaced families had begun to return to their homes when al Qaeda attacked early Wednesday, trying to reclaim the area, police said. Five people were killed - two civilians and three al Qaeda members - and six others injured in the fighting, police said.
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