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Iraq Bloodshed Intense, Unabated

Insurgents ambushed a U.S. patrol, killing a soldier, gunned down four government employees and clashed with American troops in neighborhoods across Baghdad on Saturday. Nine Iraqis died in fighting west of the capital - another sign the insurgency remains potent despite the fall of the rebel stronghold of Fallujah.

In Fallujah, where U.S. Marines and soldiers are still battling pockets of resistance, insurgents waved a white flag of surrender before opening fire on U.S. troops and causing casualties, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert said Saturday without elaborating.

Al-Arabiya television quoted Iraqi guerrillas fleeing Fallujah as saying they had run out of ammunition and many fighters who stayed behind are badly wounded.

U.S. troops in the northern city of Mosul found the bodies of nine Iraqi soldiers Saturday, all shot execution-style in the back of the head. The military first reported that seven of the victims had been beheaded, but a second statement issued late Saturday said those "initial reports" were false. The discovery came on top of that of four beheaded bodies that the U.S. military reported Saturday were spotted by American troops several days earlier in Mosul. Those four bodies were still being identified. American and Iraqi forces detained 30 suspected guerrillas overnight in Mosul, the U.S. military said.

In a positive development, a Polish woman abducted last month in Baghdad reappeared Saturday in Poland after being suddenly released. Teresa Borcz Khalifa, 54, refused to say how she was freed but said her captors treated her "properly" - treatment that they told her was "motivated by their religious beliefs."

But the widespread clashes that broke out in Baghdad early Saturday, in at least a half dozen separate neighborhoods, and in other areas of central and northern Iraq, underscored the perilous state of security in this country after 18 months of American military occupation and just over two months before vital national elections.
"Today was not like the other days," journalist Ziyad AL-Samarai reported on Al-Jazeera television. "Clashes took place in more than one area. ...It appeared there was enough coordination to launch attacks at nearly the same time."

In other developments:

  • Germany and the United States reached a deal for forgiving 80 percent of Iraq's foreign debt, capping a months-long U.S. push to lift the country's debt burden as a boost to its economy as it seeks to rebuild and establish a democractic government. The deal will be discussed by the Paris Club of creditor nations, which is owed about $42 billion.
  • The deputy commander of U.S. Central Command said Friday that some troops who are about to conclude their tours of duty in Iraq may end up staying there several months longer than expected. Speaking at a Pentagon news briefing, Air Force Lieutenant General Lance Smith said no firm decisions had been made, but it was possible several thousand troops who had been in Iraq for ten months would stay an extra 60 days, to help ensure a smooth run-up to elections in Iraq.
  • Iraq's interim government has "a good chance" of holding national elections by Jan. 31, but voting might be delayed if violence escalates or Sunni Muslims decide to boycott, the country's U.N. envoy says.
  • The International Red Cross says it is "deeply concerned" at the impact of the fighting in Iraq and the apparent failures by all sides to respect humanitarian laws.

    One American soldier was killed and nine were wounded in an ambush in the central part of the capital. Five other U.S. soldiers were injured in a car bombing on the road to Baghdad's airport - considered by U.S. authorities among the most dangerous routes in the country.

    The heaviest fighting in the capital took place in the Azamiyah district, a largely Sunni Arab quarter, where insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at a police station, killing one policeman, Iraqi officials said. On Friday, U.S. troops raided the capital's main Sunni mosque, in Azamiyah.

    A number of U.S. armored vehicles were seen in flames, including a U.S. Army Humvee with what appeared to be a body in the driver's seat. Smoke rose from burning shops along a commercial street as U.S. helicopters circled overhead and ambulances raced to the scene.

    The U.S. command said the American soldier died when his patrol came under a coordinated attack including small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. The statement did not specify where the attack occurred or whether it was part of the Azamiyah fighting.

    Clashes also erupted in the Amiriyah neighborhood of western Baghdad, long a center of insurgent activity in the capital, after three Iraqi National Guardsmen were killed by roadside bombs, policeman Akram al-Azzawi said.

    A suicide driver blew up his vehicle shortly after noon at an intersection on Saadoun Street, a bustling commercial street. One Iraqi civilian was killed and another wounded in the blast, which sent black smoke rising above the city center and set several cars ablaze.

    Gunmen chased down a vehicle carrying employees of the Ministry of Public Works on their way to work Saturday, opening fire and killed four of them, a ministry spokesman said. Amal Abdul-Hameed - an adviser to the ministry in charge of urban planning - and three employees from her office died, said spokesman Jassim Mohammed Salim.

    To the west of the capital, U.S. troops clashed with insurgents Saturday near the local government building in the Sunni Triangle city of Ramadi, where clashes have been seen almost daily. Hospital officials said nine Iraqis were killed and five were wounded.

    Earlier in the day, U.S. troops sealed off roads and launched a house-to-house search of the city's Tamim neighborhood as U.S. helicopters flew overhead, playing loudspeakers urging residents to "hand over terrorists," according to police Lt. Jamal Abdul-Kareem.

    Elsewhere, saboteurs blew up an oil well Saturday near the northern city of Kirkuk - the sixth such attack in the last 10 days, oil officials said. Insurgents regularly attack Iraq's oil infrastructure, which provides much of the revenue for reconstruction.

    Clashes occurred between U.S. troops and insurgents in Qaim along the Syrian border and in Samarra, where mortar shells struck a U.S. base but caused no casualties. Five Iraqis were hurt in the Qaim fighting, the local hospital reported.

    In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said gunmen killed an Iraqi police colonel and his driver as they were traveling south to Baghdad. Earlier this week, U.S. troops and Iraqi forces had fought insurgents in pitched battles that left at least 20 insurgents dead in the guerrilla hotspot. One Iraqi policeman and seven civilians were also killed.

    Violence spiked in Sunni areas of central and northern Iraq after U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major attack Nov. 8 against the main rebel stronghold of Fallujah in hopes of restoring order so that national elections can be held at the end of January.

    But many militants are believed to have fled the city to continue attacks elsewhere - and the operation risks alienating Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, whose participation in elections is seen as key to legitimacy.

    Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, responsible for numerous car bombings and beheadings of foreign hostages, is among those believed to have escaped Fallujah. Iraqi Brig. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said he had seen various reports placing al-Zarqawi in the Tuz Kharmato area south of Kirkuk and in the Baqouba area. The United States has placed a $25 million bounty on al-Zarqawi the same amount as for Osama bin Laden.

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