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Eight Dead After Insurgent Attacks

Insurgents launched coordinated attacks Thursday against Iraqi army checkpoints northeast of Baghdad, killing six Iraqi soldiers, police said. Roadside bombs killed two U.S. soldiers and ignited a train carrying fuel in the south of Iraq's capital.

The attacks began about 2:30 p.m. against four Iraqi checkpoints along a road between Baqouba and Baghdad, 35 miles to the southwest, police Col. Mudhafar Mohammed said.

Attackers fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades during the attacks, he said. Another police official, Col. Mohammed Hussein, said fighting was continuing into late afternoon and that at least eight people: three soldiers, four policemen and one civilian had been wounded.

There was no report of insurgent casualties.

The attacks occurred a day after three American soldiers died in two separate bombings, one in Samarra, 60 miles north of the capital, and the other in northern Baghdad. Two U.S. soldiers died in the Baghdad attack.

On Sunday, four American soldiers from Task Force Baghdad were killed when their vehicle ran over a roadside bomb in southwest Baghdad.

In other developments:

  • U.S. Marine jets dropped laser-guided bombs and other ordnance Thursday on insurgent positions in a village northwest of Baghdad, killing nine insurgents -- five of them Syrians -- the U.S. military.
    The air strike occurred after troops from the U.S. 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment and the Iraqi 1st Division came under fire from three buildings in a village west of Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, the military said.
  • Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Wednesday for killing two Algerian diplomats who were kidnapped in Baghdad last week, the second slaying of Arab envoys in Iraq this month. The deaths of Ali Belaroussi and Azzedine Belkadi brought the number of foreign envoys reported killed this month to three as part of a militant campaign to isolate Iraq's embattled government within the Arab and Muslim world. Two other apparent kidnapping attempts against diplomats were foiled.
  • The top American commander in Iraq said Wednesday there could be a "fairly substantial" pullout of American troops by next spring if there's continued political progress in Iraq and if the rebellion can be held in check. Iraq's transitional prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, meanwhile, called for a speedy withdrawal of American forces. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appearing at the same news conference, said no exact timetable had been set.
  • Classified U.S. personnel used a sledgehammer handle to beat prisoners in Iraq, according to a National Guard soldier who testified during a closed military hearing involving four Colorado-based soldiers in March. Sgt. 1st Class Gerold Pratt of the Utah National Guard said he saw the unidentified personnel use a 15-inch wooden handle to hit prisoners.
  • The electricity ministry said six attacks in the last 10 days on the power grid has led to a reduction in the electricity supplies to Baghdad and nearby southern provinces, according to government newspaper al-Sabah. Power in Baghdad is down to a half an hour of electricity followed by a six-hour blackout.
  • Seventeen employees of the court preparing to try Saddam Hussein may lose their jobs for being former members of the ousted leader Baath Party, an official said Wednesday. It is unclear, however, whether the dismissals would take place before the start of Saddam's trial, expected in September.
  • A senior Baghdad International Airport official was abducted on Wednesday, along with his driver and another companion, police said. Mahir Yassin, director of the communication department at Baghdad airport, was kidnapped from Baghdad's western Mansour neighborhood on his way to work by assailants in two cars.
  • Seven Iraqi soldiers were shot and killed as they were guarding a water plant north of Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday. About 20 assailants armed with hand grenades and light weapons drove up in four cars and opened fire Tuesday on the soldiers in the town of Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad.

    As of Wednesday, at least 1,782 members of the U.S. military had died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

    On Thursday, a train carrying fuel exploded into flames when it was hit by a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad, killing two people and wounding six others, police said.

    The attack, which sent a massive cloud of smoke over the southern part of the city, occurred in the southern neighborhood of Dora, an area where insurgents are known to be active, police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.

    The bomb appeared to have targeted a nearby police commando checkpoint, Mahmoud said. One of those killed and four of the injured are security force members, he said. The rest were civilians.

    It wasn't clear if the train, which was heading south, was also the target.

    Most of the wounded suffered serious burns, Thaer said.

    An Internet posting in the name of al Qaeda in Iraq, the country's most feared terror group, claimed responsibility for the train attack.

    The Bush administration has been eager to maintain political momentum in Iraq, hoping a broad-based government can lure Sunni Arabs guerrillas away from the insurgency. A key step in that strategy is a new constitution, which is to be completed by Aug. 15 and presented to the voters in a referendum two months later.

    On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld came to Baghdad to urge the Iraqis to finish the draft charter on time. "People are simply going to have to recognize that (in) any constitutional drafting process, compromise is necessary. It's important. It's understandable. It's the way democratic systems work," he said.

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