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Insurgents Kill 19 Iraqi Soldiers

Insurgents killed 19 Iraqi soldiers and wounded four others in a coordinated ambush northeast of Baghdad just two days after the deadliest attack against U.S. Marines in four months.

The bloodshed confirmed U.S. and Iraqi warnings of a surge in insurgent attacks ahead of national elections set for Dec. 15. A total of 14 U.S. service members have died so far this month, 10 of them in a huge bombing Thursday near Fallujah.

In an eastern neighborhood Sunday, unidentified gunmen killed a Shiite Muslim sheik, who was running in the Dec. 15th legislative elections. He was a follower of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Last week, a Sunni candidate was shot dead.

And an Iraqi police commander was killed Sunday in western Baghdad by gunmen who fired on him from two cars.

The Saturday attack occurred as an Iraqi army unit was on patrol near Adhaim, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Survivors said insurgents triggered a roadside bomb and then showered the patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire.

Earlier this week, President George W. Bush outlined his strategy for victory in Iraq, with a key point calling for Iraqi forces to eventually replace U.S. troops in the fight against insurgents.

Elsewhere, the U.S. base at the airport in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, came under mortar or rocket fire Saturday, wounding two American soldiers, the U.S. military said.

In related developments:

  • Iraq's security forces have "a long way to go" to deal with the bloody insurgency and violent crime, the government said in a report obtained by The Associated Press. The report concludes that Iraq's army, praised just this week by President Bush, needs more men, better leaders, new equipment and improved training to confront the insurgents without U.S. support.
  • The kidnappers of four Christian peace activists threatened to kill the hostages unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers are released, according to a videotape broadcast Friday by Al Jazeera television. The tape showed what the broadcaster said were two Canadian hostages. An American and a Briton are also being held. The kidnappers gave the two governments until Dec. 8 to meet their demands, Al Jazeera quoted a statement delivered with the tape as saying.
  • Three U.S. soldiers from the 48th Brigade Combat Team were killed Friday in a traffic accident south of Baghdad, and the military said an Army soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Division died of wounds suffered the previous day when his vehicle was struck by a rocket in Ramadi, 70 miles west of the capital.
  • Military officials in Baghdad for the first time Friday described a Pentagon program that pays to plant stories in the Iraqi media, an effort the top U.S. military commander said was part of an effort to "get the truth out" there.
  • In Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S. military launched a counterinsurgency operation code-named Operation Shank, a statement said. "The purpose of the operation is to disrupt a terrorist group that utilizes an area of Ramadi as its base for attacks on local Ramadi citizens, Iraqi and U.S. military," the statement said.
  • Iraq's interior ministry has banned all non-Iraqi Arabs from entering the country until further notice as part of security measures for the Dec. 15 general elections, officials said Friday.

    The U.S. command has released few details of the bombing which killed 10 members of the Marines' Regimental Combat Team 8, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

    A witness said it occurred at a mill in the village of Amiriyat al Fallujah, just outside the city. The bomb was fashioned out of four large artillery shells, U.S. officials said.

    "More than 20 troops entered there and a huge explosion happened," said Mohsen Mohammed. "Afterward, the helicopters and tanks arrived in the area."

  • Later Saturday, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape from the Islamic Army of Iraq showing a huge explosion targeting a U.S. foot patrol near Fallujah. The tape did not directly link the explosion to Thursday's attack, but the Al-Jazeera announcer noted the Marine deaths as the tape aired.

    The grainy video, which appeared to have been shot through a long lense, showed ground troops walking down a street on both sides of a Humvee when a huge fireball engulfed the scene, sending terrified Iraqi bystanders scrambling for their lives.

    Al-Jazeera said the Islamic Army, one of Iraq's best-known insurgent groups, also claimed responsibility for a series of other attacks against U.S. forces north of Baghdad, in Nasiriyah and another in Fallujah.

    In another video aired by Al-Jazeera, a group calling itself the Mujahedeen of Tal Afar claimed responsibility for destroying a U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the northern city. The video showed bomb damage to the Bradley but Al-Jazeera said it was unclear whether the footage was authentic.

    The United States hopes a big Sunni turnout in the Dec. 15 election will produce a government that can win the trust of the Sunnis, the backbone of the insurgency, and convince more of them to lay down their arms. That would hasten the day U.S. troops could go home.

    Iraq's top Shiite cleric is signaling to his followers that they should vote for the Shiite alliance in the upcoming election, aides said.

    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had stopped receiving Shiite politicians and candidates weeks ago in a sign of displeasure over the Shiite-led government's performance. However, aides said the cleric is now telling people to vote for the Shiite alliance to "preserve Iraq's unity" and "protect Iraqis."

    The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the media, said al-Sistani is not openly endorsing the United Iraqi Alliance or mentioning it by name.

    Meanwhile, the German government said it was making intense efforts to secure the release of an aid worker and her driver kidnapped in Iraq on Nov. 25. In a video made public on Tuesday, kidnappers threatened to kill Susanne Osthoff, 43, unless Germany stops dealing with the Iraqi government.

    Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin that the government had been unable to establish contact with the kidnappers.

    Germany opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but has been training Iraqi soldiers and police outside this country.

    A leading member of the British anti-war movement, Anas Altikriti, arrived Saturday in Iraq to try to win the release of four Christian peace activists — two Canadians, an American and a Briton. Altikriti told the British Broadcasting Corp., that he would meet with various Iraqi organizations in hopes one of them might have contacts with the kidnappers.

    On Friday, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape and statement in which the kidnappers threatened to kill the hostages unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers were freed by Dec. 8.

    The Christian activists — Norman Kember, 74, of London; Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, of Canada — had been repeatedly warned by Iraqi and Western security officials that they were taking a grave risk by moving about Baghdad without bodyguards.

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