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Iraq Roadside Bomb Kills 5 Marines

Five U.S. Marines have been killed in a roadside bomb blast in western Iraq, the military said Friday.

The Marines were killed Thursday while conducting combat operations near the volatile Anbar province Haqlaniyah, 90 miles northwest of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.

The Marines were assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force. Their identities are being withheld pending next-of-kin notification.

As of Friday, at least 1,689 U.S. military members have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Meanwhile, at least 21 bodies have been found scattered in separate locations near a town close to the Syrian border that is considered an insurgent hotbed, eyewitnesses said Friday.

Eyewitnesses, including an Associated Press reporter and APTN crew, said Friday that one group with 12 bodies had their hands tied behind their backs and were wearing civilian clothes. They were found near a small hamlet called Jabab, about 19 miles east of Qaim. It was unclear when they were killed.

There were another nine bodies found near Qaim outside the village of Fosfat. They were also in civilian clothes and had civilian identification cards.

In other recent developments:

  • A U.S. soldier died Thursday of non-combat injuries near Tuz Khormato, about 130 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.
  • Five other U.S. soldiers were wounded Thursday when a suicide car bomber attacked their convoy between Beiji and Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, but none of the injuries was life-threatening, the military said.
  • In southern Basra, gunmen killed the dean of the city's police academy, Col. Karim al-Daraji, police said.
  • The European Commission said Friday it plans to have a delegation in Baghdad within a month. Briefing reporters after returning from the EU's first high-level visit to Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the mission will be small but would grow as the security situation permits. "The security situation is difficult, and that's also the reason why we haven't opened a mission yet," she said. "But we need a delegation there, with all the possible care given to security." The EU wanted to appoint a charge d'affaires who could engage in a political dialogue with government authorities, she said. The EU wants the delegation located in the Green Zone, the security enclave in the center of Baghdad that also houses the U.S. Embassy. The EU delegation's one-day visit to Baghdad on Thursday was to prepare for a major donors' conference in Brussels, Belgium, later this month.

    It was unclear if the bodies had any relation to a group of about 20 Iraqi soldiers that have been missing from the Qaim area since late Tuesday.

    Qaim, an insurgent hotbed 200 miles west of Baghdad, has been the scene of numerous U.S. military and Iraqi army operations. U.S. Marines carried out two major operation in the area last month. A total of 11 Marines were killed in the campaigns.

    Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terror group led by Jordanian-born Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed in an Internet posting that it had abducted a total of 36 Iraqi soldiers in western Iraq on Wednesday. The posting carried on a web site known to carry militant statement could not be independently verified.

    "A group of the infidel guards was arrested and investigated Wednesday," It said.

    The group added that the men confessed their crimes "against Sunnis and their loyalty to crusaders." To release them, it gave the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari a day to set free "Muslim women" held in Iraqi prisons. It did not elaborate.

    Capt. Ahmed Hamid said the soldiers went missing Tuesday afternoon after leaving an Iraqi army base in two minibuses from Akashat, a remote village near the Syrian border about 70 miles southwest of Qaim.

    Hamid, contacted by telephone at an Iraqi military base in Qaim, said the soldiers were wearing civilian clothes and traveling to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, for a vacation.

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