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Insurgent Attacks Continue In Iraq

Eleven Iraqis and one U.S. Marine were killed Thursday as insurgents clashed with U.S. troops and blew up a school slated to serve as a polling center, pre-election violence that followed the deadliest day for U.S. troops since the war's start.

Another U.S. soldier died in an accident.

The Marine was killed and four others wounded when insurgents launched mortars at their base near Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad.

In Washington, President Bush called on Iraqis Wednesday to defy terrorism and go to the polls despite relentless insurgent attacks. He said it was a "very discouraging" day when the U.S. death toll for the war rose above 1,400.

That figure was eclipsed when 30 U.S. Marines and one Navy sailor died in a helicopter crash in bad weather in the western desert, and six U.S. troops were killed in insurgent ambushes. That made Wednesday the deadliest single day for Americans since the Iraq war began nearly two years ago.

The helicopter, a CH-53E Super Stallion, was carrying personnel from the 1st Marine Division on a security mission in support of the election when it went down about 1:20 a.m. near the town of Rutbah, about 220 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.

The crash occurred during severe weather, but its cause was still under investigation, said Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command. An Accuweather map showed sandstorms Wednesday in the western region of Iraq near the Jordanian border where the crash took place.

All but three of the Marines had been based in Hawaii, according to Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

In other developments:

  • A U.S. soldier died from a gunshot wound early Thursday on a base near Tikrit in what the American military command called an accident.
  • Another U.S. soldier was injured when his convoy was attacked early Thursday near Kirkuk by small arms fire and a roadside bomb, said Master Sgt. Robert Powell.
  • Australian officials announced that one of two car bombings on Baghdad's dangerous airport road Wednesday had injured eight Australian soldiers riding in a convoy escorting Australian government officials.
  • A Muslim youth group in Brazil issued an appeal for the kidnappers of a Brazilian hostage to release him. The appeal by the Alliance of Muslim Youth, broadcast on Al-Jazeera, noted that many Brazilians had opposed the Iraq war.
  • Three Iraqis were killed and seven injured when a roadside bomb missed a U.S. convoy in Mahmoudiya area, 20 miles south of Baghdad on Thursday morning, according to the area's hospital director, Dawoud al-Taie.
  • Near Tikrit, a roadside bomb killed one Iraqi bystander and narrowly missed another passing U.S. military convoy, police said. The attack happened on a road near former dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown, about 80 miles north of Baghdad, said police Lt. Shalan Allawi.
  • In Samarra, armed men blew up a local school administration building on Thursday morning after first ordering the staff to leave, said police Lt. Qassim Mohammed. The destroyed building had been scheduled to be a voting center in Sunday's elections. Sporadic clashes also erupted in Samarra on Thursday morning between U.S. troops and armed men, killing one Iraqi civilian and injuring another, Mohammed said.
  • U.S. forces also exchanged fire with insurgents in Ramadi, capital of the insurgent-plagued province of Anbar west of Baghdad.
  • In Baqouba, the body of a colonel in the former Iraqi intelligence during Saddam's era, Talib Minshid, was found in the city, according to a Baqouba hospital official, Mohammed Ali. Minshid had been abducted by armed men two days ago. In the same town, one Iraqi police officer was killed and four others injured by a suicide car bomb Thursday, according to Adel Mulan, the head of the Diyala provincial police force.
  • On Wednesday, rebels launched a string of car bombs and attacks on polling centers across the country that killed at least 13 people.

    The deadliest previous incident for U.S. troops was also a helicopter crash: a November 2003 collision of two Black Hawk helicopters that killed 17. Before Wednesday's bloodshed, the most Americans killed in one day came on the invasion's third day — March 23, 2003 — when 28 troops were killed during the U.S. military's drive to take Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein.

    The U.S. military has not seen such a high loss of life in one day in 15 years — since an explosion ripped through a gun turret on the USS Iowa during a training exercise in the Caribbean in April 1989, killing 47 sailors.

    Iraqi security forces and civilians have borne the brunt of violence in Iraq, with bombings often killing scores of people at a time. More than 180 people were killed on March 2, 2004, during a string of suicide attacks at Shiite shrines in Karbala and Baghdad.

    Violence has only increased ahead of Sunday's election, which will create a 275-member National Assembly and regional legislatures. Sunni Muslim extremists have threatened to sabotage the election, and many Sunni clerics have called for a boycott because of the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops.

    The group calling itself al Qaeda in Iraq warned people to stay away from the polls, threatening attacks. "Oh people, be careful. Be careful not to be near the centers of infidelity and vice, the polling centers ... Don't blame us but blame yourselves" if harmed," a Web statement issued in the group's name said.

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