7 Spanish Officers Dead In Ambush

Attackers ambushed a convoy of Spanish military intelligence officers on a highway south of Baghdad on Saturday, killing seven.

In addition, two Japanese men, believed to be diplomats, were shot to death by an assailant near Tikrit on Saturday afternoon, Japanese officials said.

So far in November, at least 75 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, making it the deadliest month for American troops since the U.S.-led coalition invaded on March 20. U.S.-trained Iraqi police appear to have coordinated some of those assaults, a U.S. official said today.

Footage shot by Sky News shortly after the attack on the Spaniards showed a crowd of about a dozen men gathered around the bodies, chanting: ``We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, oh Saddam.'' One young man could be seen planting his foot on one of the bodies while another kicked it.

A coalition helicopter that reached the scene of the attack on the Spanish intelligence agents, 30 miles south of Baghdad, evacuated six bodies and one wounded person to a medical center, said a Spanish Defense Ministry official reached by telephone in Madrid.

The convoy of two civilian four-wheel-drive vehicles was traveling south from Baghdad to the city of Hillah, according to Capt. Ivan Morgan, a spokesman for a multinational division in southern Iraq. He described the men as Spanish soldiers attached to an intelligence unit.

A television cameraman who drove by the scene at 5:15 p.m., shortly after the attack, said he saw two destroyed vehicles — one still burning — and four bodies on the road.

The cameraman for Sky News, Adam Murch, described a jubilant crowd kicking the bodies. He said some in the crowd said the bodies belonged to CIA agents. He said the crowd appeared hostile and the journalists were forced to leave.

Spain was one of the staunchest supporters of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein earlier this year and sent 1,300 soldiers to help maintain order.

U.S. military officials are concerned that some attacks on Americans have been coordinated by a few of the numerous Iraqi civilians hired by the U.S. military, who may glean intelligence on troop movements and travels of high-ranking officers, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters at the Baghdad Convention Center.

"Clearly those are concerns we have. We try to do the vetting (of Iraqi employees) as close as we can," said the top-ranked U.S. official in Iraq. "There have been instances when police were coordinating attacks against the coalition and against the people."

In other developments:

  • The movement of U.S leaders and troops is being carefully tracked by Iraqi insurgents and used to plan attacks, U.S. officials tell The New York Times.
  • President Bush says he's pleased to report morale is strong on the front lines in Iraq. He used his weekly radio address to talk about his surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Baghdad. Bush says he the troops' morale is high, and the military is "confident" it "will prevail." Bush also says Americans appreciate the difficulties military families are facing, especially those who have lost loved ones in the war. He says many are showing their appreciation by helping military families repair their homes and offering other kinds of help. He urged more Americans to do so.
  • Iraqi oil wells require extensive underground repairs or the oil reserves may be permanently damaged, the New York Times reports.

    The Japanese deaths were the first in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, and comes as Japan is debating whether to send non-combat troops to Iraq to help with that country's reconstruction.

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been a firm supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has emphasized Japan has a responsibility to help rebuild the country.

    But he has hesitated to put troops on the group as near-daily attacks on coalition forces have shaken public support for the mission.

    Parliament approved the deployment of ground troops in July but only on condition that they serve in "non-combat areas," which Koizumi's opponents argue don't exist in Iraq.

    A total of 436 U.S. soldiers have died since the start of the war, according to the Pentagon and the latest casualty figures released by the U.S. military in Baghdad. They include 299 soldiers killed in combat and others who died from other causes such as accidents.

    Seventy-five soldiers from other allied nations — including 52 from Britain and 17 from Italy — also have died, bringing the total number of coalition deaths since the war started to over 500.

    The U.S.-led occupation authorities in Baghdad say they do not have a number for Iraqi deaths. A survey by the Associated Press documented at least 3,240 civilians killed during the invasion between March 20 and April 20. The real number is believed to be much higher.

    Until November, the deadliest month was April, when 73 troops died at the height of the war. The single deadliest day was March 23, when 30 U.S. soldiers died.

    President Bush declared major combat over May 1.

    It was not possible to ascertain the breakdown of combat deaths and those resulting from other causes in November, because many of the fatalities have yet to be officially classified.

    One of those is the single bloodiest incident of the month — the collision of two Black Hawk helicopters during an anti-insurgency operation in Mosul on Nov. 15 in which 17 troops were killed. While initial reports from the scene said the crash occurred when one of the choppers was struck by ground fire, the military says its investigation isn't finished.

    Over half of the U.S. deaths this month occurred in helicopter crashes in Mosul, Fallujah and Tikrit, while most others resulted from ambushes involving roadside bombs or rocket-propelled grenades.

    Since the start of military operations, 2,094 U.S. service members have been injured as a result of hostile action, according to the Defense Department's figures as of Wednesday. The number of soldiers injured in non-hostile incidents was 350.

    Sanchez said the insurgency was becoming particularly bloody for Iraqi civilians. Guerrillas launched more than 150 attacks on Iraqi civilian and police targets, killing scores during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week.

    The United States plans changes to its forces in Iraq to make them more mobile to respond to assaults that Sanchez said is becoming particularly bloody for ordinary Iraqis, with guerrillas launching more than 150 attacks against police and other civilians during the during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week.

    Guerrilla attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq have dropped some 30 percent in the past two weeks, he said. They have fallen from a daily average of 35 to 22. On the worst days earlier this month, the total reached as high as 50 attacks per day, Sanchez said. At least 75 U.S. soldiers have been killed in November.

    The new phase in the Iraq war will begin as forces are rotated out of Iraq and replaced by new units, including several thousand U.S. Marines.

    "We are going to change the composition of our forces," Sanchez said. "We'll have more infantry. We're moving to a more mobile force, one that has the right blend of light and heavy."

    Military planners see no need for an overall increase from the 130,000 U.S. forces in Iraq, and the number of troops would decrease as transportation, logistics and communications personnel are sent home, he said.

    In the northern city of Kirkuk, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island held a private meeting with local officials who pleaded for financial help from the American government.

    Clinton, a Democrat from New York, and Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, spent Friday in Iraq with troops, occupation officials and aid workers.

    They said Friday that the huge costs of rebuilding Iraq should be spread among a wider group of nations. "I'm a big believer that we ought to internationalize this, but it will take a big change in our administration's thinking," said Clinton. "I don't see that it's forthcoming."

    U.S. officials say the arrest of three North Africans in Europe this week on suspicion of recruiting militants to attack the American-led coalition points to an organized international campaign.

    But Sanchez acknowledged the difficulty of establishing a firm connection with the terror network.

    "We still haven't conclusively established an al Qaeda operative in this country," the general said.