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U.S. Attacks, After Roadside Bomb

American troops opened fire after their convoy was struck by a roadside bomb at a checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing at least two policemen and three civilians, police said Sunday, a day after the U.S. military acknowledged five people were killed when it bombed the wrong house during a search operation in northern Iraq.

The owner of the house, Ali Yousef, said 14 people were killed when the 500-pound GPS-guided bomb hit at about 2 a.m. Saturday in the town of Aitha, 30 miles south of Mosul. An Associated Press photographer at the scene said seven children and seven adults died. The discrepancy between the death counts could not be reconciled.

The U.S. military later released a statement saying it regretted the loss of "possibly innocent lives" in the strike, which occurred as U.S. ground troops searched for "an anti-Iraqi force cell leader." American troops recently sent more troops to Mosul, which has seen heavy clashes in recent weeks between insurgents and American forces.

The attacks come at an extremely delicate time, with Iraq roiled by violence just three weeks before elections for a national assembly. The United States has insisted that the vote go ahead on Jan. 30.

In other developments:

  • Insurgents killed a Sunni Muslim official after he tried to persuade a Shiite Muslim leader to support a delay in Iraq's scheduled Jan. 30 elections, the Washington Post reports. Ali Ghalib, the head of the provincial council for Salahuddin province, reportedly attempted to persuade Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to back a six-month delay in the ballot.
  • Seven Ukrainian soldiers and one Kazakh soldier serving in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq were killed Sunday in an explosion, the Defense Ministry said. The ministry said an aviation bomb exploded as it was being loaded. Ukraine is the fourth-largest contributor of troops to the U.S.-led coalition. Ukraine's Defense Minister, Oleksandr Kuzmuk, who visited the troops to celebrate Orthodox Christmas last week, has said that Ukraine planned a complete withdrawal by year's end.
  • Iraq's most influential Sunni group will abandon its call for a boycott of Jan. 30 elections if the United States gives a timetable for withdrawing multinational forces, a spokesman for the group said Sunday. Members of the powerful Association of Muslim Scholars relayed their request to a senior U.S. embassy official at a meeting Saturday, the Sunni official said on condition of anonymity. It is extremely unlikely the United States would consider giving a timetable for a withdrawal.
  • Britain is expected to announce next week that it will send an extra 650 soldiers to Iraq to bolster security for the elections, a London newspaper reported. The Sunday Telegraph said the deployment of a battalion of Royal Highland Fusiliers would boost British troop levels in Iraq to some 9,000. A Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed that the 650-strong battalion was on standby.
  • Iraq's Interior Ministry said it was searching for missing French journalist Florence Aubenas and her translator, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, amid a possible witness account that they were abducted in downtown Baghdad. The two were last seen Wednesday morning leaving Aubenas' hotel in the Iraqi capital. One of al-Saadi's relatives said the two were abducted near an entrance to the Green Zone, the fortified area that is home to the U.S. Embassy and the interim Iraqi government, but the claim could not be confirmed.

    U.S. officials had no immediate comment about the shooting at the checkpoint, which occurred late Saturday. Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said a U.S. convoy was hit by a roadside bomb near a police checkpoint in Yussifiyah, nine miles south of Baghdad, and troops opened fire, killing two police and three civilians.

    Dr. Anmar Abdul-Hadi of the al-Yarmouk hospital said eight people were killed in the attack and 12 were wounded.

    American commanders recently have said they were changing tactics in the way they respond to roadside bombings. Rather than pushing on after the blast, they now stop and try to engage the perpetrators, who may have detonated the explosives remotely.

    Also Sunday, a U.S. soldier assigned to the Task Force Baghdad was killed in a roadside bomb explosion, the military said, although it did not say where the attack occurred. The name of the soldier was withheld pending notification of next of kin.

    And the deputy police chief of Samarra, Col. Mohammed Mudhafir, was killed in a drive-by-shooting. Mudhafir was driving alone and was dressed in civilian clothes when killed by unknown assailants, Samarra police Maj. Raed Ahmed said.

    The upcoming election is the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932, and the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. Sunni leaders have urged the vote be postponed, largely because areas of Iraq where they dominate are far too restive for preparations to begin.

    On Saturday, the spokesman for Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, Fareed Ayar, said the number of polling centers around Iraq will be 5,220. The figure excludes the volatile Anbar province. Baghdad alone will have 1,454 centers, he said.

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